Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two Nights Before Christmas

'Tis two nights before Christmas and all thru the land
We're all realising 'twas all built on sand

The TD's have run for the country like hares
The bankers all hope we'll forget their affairs

The Churchmen are cowering in the corner in fright
Like that proverbial rabbit, caught in the light

The judges are sitting on top of their loot
Consultants are too - they don't give hoot

About those down the ladder - perhaps the first rung
Who are scrimping and scraping, not having much fun

But hurrah say the lads in their nice pin-striped jackets
Why are those poor making such a big racket?

We're okay with our bonuses which we rightly deserve
And the poor pointing at us have got quite a nerve

To those men and those women as rich as Croesus
Might be worth remembering the words of one Jesus

As you rich men barter or rich women wheedle
Ponder if you will, the eye of a needle

Can a camel pass thru it in a year or say, seven?
That's how easy it is for you to get to heaven

Perhaps as we think on this cold Christmas season
Our country will come back from the brink into reason

And to try figure out as a new decade dawns
If life's about bathrooms and holiday homes?

On a hushed Christmas night as we look at the stars
And ask ourselves exactly who it is that we are

Look around you and see, in the light from above
That the message of Christmas is all about love

For ourselves and our families, our neighbours and friends
And even for those who drive us round the bend

And maybe next year we'll see more in our community
Than a consumer or a sponger or a selling opportunity.

Merry Christmas to all my family, friends, supporters and readers. My humblest apologies for this bad poetry offering. But every now and then there's nothing I like more than a bit of ould rhymin' Call it my Christmas indulgence! Hope your Christmas is peaceful and fun and that 2010 brings everything good for you and yours. God bless. Mary.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What a Week

A sexual abuser in Listowel is lionised by some of his local community; a Waterford family are turfed out of their home by a sub-prime lender; four Bishops still won't do the right thing; the poor are being made to pay to bail out the banks; a priest child abuser gets just 2 years in jail..... What kind of a twisted country are we living in at all?

How many of Mr Foley's supporters down in Kerry have been the victim of a rape? Including the parish priest who said he was always respectful of women?

Which banker (imagine Stepstone is partly owned by Lehman Brothers and KBC) has lost their home in the weeks before Christmas with a 17 year old special needs child, in the same week that they lost that glorious and brave 4.1% off their carers allowance and job seekers allowance, in the same year that they lost their jobs and their pension scheme were found to be insolvent leaving them with nothing?

Who, among the international cheerleaders for our Finance minister Brian Lenihan for his 'courage' in taking the right decisions by cutting 4.1% from the poorest and lowest paid, is living on €200 a week?

What planet is the judge who convicted a priest of abusing a child and sentencing him to 2 years in jail (plus one year suspended) living on, that he thinks this is a fair punishment?

This country has got its' priorities all mixed up. The bankers should be in jail; the poor should be protected; the rich should pay their fare share; the abusers should go to hell and we should all get our act together. Right is not right anymore: wrong is right and its okay for rich people sitting in their penthouse apartments to spit on the little people. Not the way things should be I'm afraid.

At a time when we need Christian principles more than ever - where are they? With the Catholic Church, in the grave I'm afraid.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Century of Trade & Enterprise in Waterford

An uncle of mine, Bill Irish and his colleague Andrew Kelly kindly asked me to launch a book for them last Saturday entitled 'A Century of Trade & Enterprise in Waterford'.

The book is a photographic essay of work and workers in Waterford City & County from the 1880's through to the 1980's and there are some fantastic images of industrial life in the city.

From the opening of the first motor garage in Ireland in 1906 on Catherine Street (Chapter 1) to the first ever scheduled Ryanair passenger flight (page 26) in 1985 - many people forget that Ryanair started in Waterford! - and even including a photograph of a Grand-uncle of mine, one Paddy Roche who was a foreman in the Foundry (page 94) who is pictured next to the first Rayburn cooker made there in the 1950's - there is sure to be much in this book to amuse and intrigue anyone with even a passing interest in Waterford.
For those of us who love Waterford it is a veritable treasure trove to be poured over. I particularly like the photographs of The Quays, with the sailing ships berthed along her entire length as well as the ones of the faces of those good citizens who have gone before us going about their everyday business. You have to check out the women selling apples in The Applemarket (where else) on page 72 with their 'dudeens'! There are stories in those faces.
I've always been a fan of WLR fms resident 'On This Day' historian Julian Walton and I always remember him saying that he was of the opinion that people shouldn't be able to collect their pensions until they wrote down their life stories! He was jesting of course but he had a point. Every day we lose people, and their history and story goes with them. How great it would be to have a record of the lives and struggles of those who went before us and who, essentially, made us what we are. This book certainly tells part of those stories.
Anyway, Bill and Andys' book is now launched and is on sale in the Granary, the Book Centre, Ardkeen Stores, and Supervalu Tramore (great photo's of the cockle women and more from Tramore) for a mere €15. It would make a lovely gift for Waterford people at home an away.
Thanks to the Waterford Civic Trust (Chairman Padraig O'Griofa pictured above on the right with myself and the two authors) for their support in publishing the book. And the best of luck to Bill and Andy with this project and the many more I know they will produce in time.

An Bord Pleanala and those Out-Of-Town Developments

In light of recent issues and decisions facing Waterford City Council, I note with interest a number of refusals from An Bord Pleanala in recent months which clearly underpin Waterfords' strategy of ensuring the primacy of the city centre core shopping area.

The first is the recent decision taken by ABP to refuse a large retail proposal on the old Mart site outside Kilkenny on the basis (amongst other things) that it could adversely affect the vitality and vibrancy on the core retail area of the town centre! Interestingly, the initial application had also been refused by Kilkenny Borough Council - although merely on the basis of traffic impact.

Along the same lines in another decision - last July - the Bord also refused permission for a large extension to The Crescent Shopping Centre outside Limerick city - which was being built in part to accommodate and new Marks & Spencer (ring any bells?). The reason for the refusal was similar - the threat to the core shopping centre of Limerick city.

These two decisions set out clearly that national policy is now being strictly implemented and that An Bord Pleanala is insisting that Councils follow the Regional Planning Guidelines for Shopping which are strongly in favour of protecting and developing core City Centre shopping.

One can only hope that these recent decisions will inform the elected members and those in the planning departments of our neighbouring authorities who are doing everything in their power to undermine the retail core our our city for their own benefit, with no regard to the impact of those decisions on Waterfords' core shopping area. (Perhaps the enormous, still empty shopping centre on the outskirts of the city in Ferrybank will be lesson enough.)

This is a clear message to those who have been lobbying hard to try and get Waterford City Council to contravene this policy. Wasting any more time on this strategy is merely that - a waste. I would now urge and encourage those companies to look again at city centre developments which can and will cater to their requirements. That way, we are all winners. We sincerely want as much retail development as possible in the heart of Waterford - the Zara's, the HMV's, the M&S's - you name it. But it is essential that they locate in the city centre.

It is now obvious that this policy has national backing so roll on the new developments!

I also note and welcome that the Lismore Residents Association have withdrawn their objection to the further development of WITs' Cork Road Campus.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Church Response to Murphy Report

I wrote here a few days ago about the Murphy report and finished on a note about atonement. It now appears that 'the church' as an institution has no intention of atoning for the terrible sins it vested on the faithful and their children. I am not even talking in this instance about the actual abuse itself. I am talking about the church, at best ignoring and at worst, facilitating that child abuse through the actions of the Bishops.

We have all known about the abuse for some time now, and not to lessen that at all but the Murphy report was more about the Churches role both in not stopping child abusers and in allowing those abusers continue to abuse by moving them on from parish to parish with their reputations intact, directly causing the abuse of many many more children.

The Church is going to have to make a fundamental change in its governance and transparency and it is, quite simply going to have to carry out a purge of those who allowed - and may still carry the culture of denial of child abuse with them in their current roles.

The institutional church - the higher it goes, the more it has left everyone down. The culture of the Bishops closing ranks - and even daring to suggest a witch hunt against them - is very disappointing. The total silence of the Vatican is unbelievable.

Perhaps it is time that the real church - the lay people demanded and took (for it seems they will not be given) ownership of their church from those Bishops - who feel, let us be under no illusions that it is okay to lie to us - or as they call it 'mental reservation'!

I say all this in the context of acknowledging the many members of the church, the many priests, brothers and Bishops who are sickened by all of this and who are flabbergasted by the silence that is emanating from their superiors.

Unless there is real visible change in the institutional church then no good will have come from this whole exercise. I'm afraid throwing your hands in the air and crying mea culpa just doesn't cut it any more. Words are too easy. Actions are what is needed. Personal responsibility is what is needed. Change is what is demanded.

Otherwise what is left of the flock will soon bypass the Roman Catholic institution and channel their Christian faith through their own personal routes. Maybe that would be the best thing at this stage?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Penneys Re-opening Very Welcome

The re-opening of Penneys this morning has provided a welcome boost to shopping in the City Centre in advance of Christmas. If the crowds there this morning are anything to go by then the new store wll prove extremely popular and a great draw into Barronstrand Street.

The new store is really nice, with lovely architectural and acheological touches in the main floor downstairs and on the first floor. Not like any Penneys that I have ever seen to date.

The selection is also huge and spread as it is over two floors allows much more of Penneys products to be on sale.

I really welcome Penneys opening this morning, just in time for Christmas. It will absolutely prove a big draw into the city and no doubt many other premises will also feel the benefit. Hopefully this is the beginning of a regeneration of the City Centre and I congratulate Penneys and wish them well for the future.

I also welcome the return of the gorgeous carousel (pictured above) which proved such a hit last year. No doubt that, the lights and the weekend market will add to the festive atmosphere. Bring on the shoppers!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Suicide Levels & Help Services Must Be Tackled

If the amount of people that are dying by suicide were happening through any other method, the whole country would be up in arms. If a foreign power had come to our shores and were killing over 600 people a year - there would be an international outcry. Look at the re-action to the swine-flu pandemic - and even at its' worst, the numbers who are expected to lose their lives come nowhere near the numbers who are currently dying by suicide. Something has got to be done.

I have read with despair in todays' Sunday newspapers the stories of several very very young people - as young as 12 years old - who have chosen suicide in the last few weeks and months. Yet it continues to be ignored as a problem at National level. We have to tackle this issue head on if we don't want to lose increasing numbers of young people and indeed - people of all ages.

Perhaps there is a sentiment at official level that suicide is such a personal issue that no national strategies could reduce it. This is a fallacy. There is an awful lot that could and should be done to lower the numbers of those who are opting for suicide. Many in our communities have been voices in the wilderness for a long time now pleading for something to be done, but they remain just that: voices in the wilderness. There seems to be no imperative to tackle suicide. Better roads and rules reduces road deaths: what solutions or rules could reduce suicide?

Well I'm no expert but I do have limited insight having been involved with Waterford Area Partnership and their efforts to draw up and implement a suicide prevention strategy for the city with partner agencies. I Chaired, as part of that process, a public meeting, where a surprisingly large and vocal and much more informed than me turnout detailed with searing honesty, the short-comings in the current system and how it might be improved.

One way that stood out in my mind (and I'm para-phrasing) would be for many in the psychiatric services to come out of the dark-ages and start offering a real service to their clients. Story after story detailed the deficiencies in the service provided by many so-called professionals. Many seemed content to medicate constantly with no hope of improvement in their clients mental health and many were also completely opposed to any other form of treatment. Several of those in attendance detailed how their psychiatrists insisted that if their patients sought any other form of (complimentary) treatment, say perhaps counselling, that they were told they needn't bother coming back! There was a litany of short-comings detailed - most specifically at the HSE.

In fairness, staff from the HSE Suicide Prevention Office attended that night and listened and one can only hope that the message was unequivocally brought back to those seemingly high and mighty professionals who were so excoriated by those for whom they were quite simply not providing a good, effective or even adequate service.

This is not even to go into details of out-of-hours services that should be available or services specific to certain vulnerable groups such as, say teenagers.

Suicide, is without doubt a most difficult area. It needs to be spoken about but not in such a way as to promote it. People who have taken their own lives by suicide need to be remembered and celebrated - without celebrating their choice to die by suicide. It is an area riven with risks and sensitivities.

My heart goes out to the many people, families and caring doctors and professionals who try their best, in a very difficult area, to do the best they can. But as a society we need to deal with this issue. We need the government to prioritise investment in suicide prevention. We need the HSE to ensure that their professionals are constantly provided with training and support in the most appropriate and up-to-date methods of treating people. We need openness and accountability in a very hidden and sad area. We need to throw light into this dark corner.

The one thing we cannot do, is turn a blind eye when 12 year olds are taking their own lives. The one thing we cannot do is believe that there is nothing we can do. We cannot allow people to think that they are not the most valuable things we have in our society - despite debts, mental illness, stress, depression, bullying or any of the many things that can push people over the edge.

If there's one thing that last weeks floods have shown us, it is that a sense of neighbourliness, of caring and of community is not too far under the surface in Ireland. I hope that now that those things have been re-awakened in us, we won't wait until the next disaster to put them into action again.

I hope that that we, as a society, will continue to offer that helping hand to our neighbour and will help to re-build our society with the foundations that really matter. Not money and property. But people and community.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dublin Archdiocese Report

More terrible, devastating revelations today in the Murphy Report into the cover up by the Dublin Diocese of child abuse. It is almost impossible to comprehend how little the church cared about what happened to hundreds of innocent children.

They did, it seems, everything they could to protect the abusers and discredit, ostracise and ignore the children and their families. In fairness, all credit goes to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for finally and completely coming clean on the issue and offering unhindered access to their files.

I do feel sorry for the many good men and women in the church who have been tangled up in this most awful scandal. But, if anyone has let them down, it is their own church, who by their inaction - or worse, their action in merely moving on accused priests - have exposed them to accusation by association.

It seems that the church was either incapable or just wasn't prepared to understand the despicable crime that child abuse is, and the effect it can have on victims lives. Another, perhaps unintended consequence of priests living solitary lives where they are excluded from having and thereby understanding any close relationships.

It has always been my opinion that it is not a healthy way or even a natural way for a man to be forced to live. As a result of having no close relationships many can not understand what it is like either for the abused or for their parents. If you don't care deeply about, not just people in general, but some specific loved ones, how can you relate to people in a situation that is completely alien and detached from you?

Not only the church, but also state authorities were complicit. I am not convinced that the structures are in place even today to protect children although I think the Gardaí are fantastic now in these cases and pursue cases without fear or favour. How much better though, to have systems in place to protect children, than having to go investigating after the fact. The damage has been done at that stage.

It is heart-breaking to think how many lives and families have been broken or destroyed. The country is coming through a catharsis on many fronts but this one is surely the most devastating. We have had the hands in the air fronts the churches and, we think, the remorse. Now for the atonement.

Monday, November 23, 2009

That Cheating Hand

It is a pretty bitter pill to swallow, being knocked out of the World Cup Finals by 'le main de frog' as it has become known. Now I know and have heard all the arguments from 'get over it' by Roy Keane (I mean hello? Pot - kettle and all that!) to 'we should have won in previous games', from however many pundits you care to name.
But whatever about all those discussions which will go on for many years I suspect: it does not change the fact that France won through cheating. Now every other governing body of sport that I can think of goes out of its' way to both eliminate the chances of cheating, to even rescinding previous awards to cheats - however deliberate or accidental that cheating is judged to be.
Think of the Olympics - where medals are regularly recalled and records erased - even years later, if it is proven that they were achieved through fraudulent means. And rugby - where even after a game, a player can be 'cited' for unsportsmanlike behaviour on the pitch.
It seems that FIFA is the only one prepared to allow blatant and open cheating and to reward same. In my opinion, world soccer has been delivered a fairly dangerous blow by 'henry-gate'. I, for one, now have no faith whatsoever in either their objectivity (the dogs on the street know they wanted France to win) or their commitment to 'fair play'. It has all be proven to be a pack of lies. All front with no determination to implement any of their fine words, once the result suits them.
And, to be honest, my seven year old son has no faith in them either. He can't understand how the goal - and the subsequent result - can be allowed to stand. You know how self-righteous seven year olds can be. Life can be fairly back and white for them. Normally I try to enlighten him than life is sometimes not fair. But when its so unfair and so obvious that the 'bad guy' has won, I find it very hard to explain to him why it should be ok to cheat - as long as you get away with it. In fact, I won't do it.
I have written an email to FIFA (falling on deaf ears, no doubt) but whatever they say: they are wrong. They have just written a Cheaters Charter and have no more moral authority with me - or my son!

Waterford Was Lucky - This Time!

Above is a photo of a flooded Cork City and we have just seen a few days when large parts of the Country - parts which have never seen flooding in living memory - have been under dangerous levels of water. Congratulations are due to all those in the emergency services, local authorities, Gardaí, army and in the community who came to the aid of people who were stuck. I certainly don't remember anything of this severity in my lifetime.

Waterford was lucky - this time. The elements that conspire to flood our city were mercifully absent this time. Normally is takes a combination of things - a very high tide, excessive rain and a South Easterly gale - to cause flooding in Waterford. Thankfully not all of those were present but it is only a matter of time before they will be. I well remember the Quays in the City being under several feet of water as well as flooding in many other low lying areas.

The closing of just one stretch of the Inner Ring Road alone caused enough traffic mayhem.

Our flood defences are underway but will not be delivered in full for quite a number of years yet. The Quays are being worked on as we speak; the Waterside, all through the Park, out past Quinsworth in Poleberry, as far as and including the Tramore Road are all due to commence and be completed in the next few years. But it will take time to complete it all. It is to be hoped that we will be spared a flood here in the intervening time but I wouldn't be confident about that.

I have to say that Padraig Walsh, the President of the IFA, made a lot of sense when he said that we have to go back to dredging the rivers and streams. These have been silting up for years now but due to 'environmental concerns' dredging is almost never carried out anymore. As a result the rivers and streams have become considerably shallower and not at all able to carry the water capacity that they once were.

Indeed I believe that even under the marinas in the City, the boats are now regularly sitting on the bottom in low tide and that many boats cannot berth at all on the inside of the marina due to the shallowness of the water. The seriousness of this situation has now become apparent and it is crucial that river management schemes are put in place to remove silt build up in rivers and streams - despite concerns about worms!

Yes some development has not helped but the sheer scale of what happened last week and the fact that places flooded which have never ever flooded before, points to other issues than simply building on flood plains.

The water from last week seems to be receding - although very slowly. For now. There can be no doubt but that there will be serious discomfort and millions upon millions of euro worth of damage left in its' wake.

The main thing though, is peoples' lives and personal safety and so far, thank God, there appears to have been no loss of life as a result of the floods. That, at least, is surely positive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Banks Are The Real Winners

The more you read about it the more you have to come to the conclusion that nothing has or will change in the banks. They have fought (and won) tooth and nail to place their own candidates into the most senior positions. I, for one, simply do not believe the line that they are peddling, about not being able to find external candidates. It is a pack of lies.

But what a ridiculous situation that those 'underlings' to the CEO's are now earning up into the €600,000's! My God, they are so not worth it. They made a bags of running the banks - and have all but bankrupted the Country into the bargain. And if we are to believe what we read, then the bonuses - and not the basic pay - are where bankers earn their real money - into the millions of Euro. Have these been eliminated or capped? Not to my knowledge. Aren't the banks being 'forced to pay them by law'? Poor darlings!

The culture of the banks remains strong. Their ethic (if that not a contradiction in terms) towards anything other than themselves, their bonuses and their balance sheets remains intact.

They have stifled economic development and the day-to-day running of business in this country. And they remain unpunished. They remain powerful. They continue to dictate their own terms of rescue. And one can't help but have the feeling that when this eventually passes, whatever is left in its' wake, will not have affected them one little bit.
They will soon (sure aren't things turning around globally in banking already) be back to their even bigger pay-packets, immoral bonuses and old 'screw everyone else' ways.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

School Water Charges; School Books & Crests

With so much doom and gloom and so many issues around, I suppose its' natural that some will get overlooked. One such issue is the subject of water charges in schools. According to EU law, all non-domestic water users (everyone except private residences) must pay the cost of the provision of clean water.
By and large, I think that's fair. Although when you think that it includes charities, hospitals and hospices, for example - perhaps there should be some distinction amongst non-domestic users.
By the way, the Government have agreed to pay the cost for domestic users - what would you say are the chances of that?
As mentioned up top, my problem is with schools at the moment. This directive has been in place for the past two years, since 2008, with schools paying €3.50 per pupil that year and €4.50 per pupil in 2009. However from 2010 schools will be liable for the full commercial cost and that will be substantially higher - many thousands of euro higher.
I am on the Board of Management of a local national school which has been classified as 'disadvantaged' and I can tell you our estimated usage cost for next year - for just HALF the year Jan-June - is €7,000! Now this is a staggering amount and I can say without fear that it is money that the school quite simply does not have. Full stop.
Now admittedly, the school I am talking about is an old one, in an old building, with old-fashioned water systems, installed when we still thought that the provision of clean water was free. Indeed, over a recent weekend we shut off the water for the entire school and still lost over 3,000 gallons! That's with the water turned off!
Assuming that the school is granted money under the summer works scheme for next year (ironically only announced a month ago even tbough this has been on the horizon for the last two years) which is for water conservation measures, then usage would hopefully come down but that still leaves us - and I'm sure, other schools - with this huge charge for the first six months of next year.
And you can be sure that the burden will ultimately fall back on already hard-pressed parents. It is too terrible to contemplate that perhaps we mightn't even be successful in our application for the summer works scheme which would mean a full year usage charge of around €14,000! Show me a primary school that has that kind of money swilling around in its' coffers!
The City Council set the rate but by law, we must pass on the full commercial cost, as directed by the Department of Environment. I will certainly be examining through the upcoming budget process if there is anything that can be done for schools but this issue is literally around the corner and coming at us very fast. It is being lost in all the other terrible things that are being contemplated as the moment but it is one that I believe Government must revisit.
Schools just cannot afford this charge - and neither, by and large, can parents who already contribute heavily to the cost of the running of the schools in our so-called free education system. I am calling on the Government to maintain the current charging regime of €4.50 per pupil, which is fair and manageable and still encourages water conservation.
On a related matter, I am also calling on all schools in the Waterford area to examine if there are any measures that they can take which would alleviate the financial burden on parents.
One such issue would be for schools to come together and decide on the books which they will use - and to stick with those books - same editions etc, for a long period of time (except in the case of curriculum change obviously). We should not be allowing the printing companies to dictate the amount of edition changes (and thereby purchases of new books) that parents must buy.
I recently threw out about €3-400 worth of Junior Cert books, all in good condition with the price tags still on them. There wasn't a book which cost less than €25! Some were considerably more. I was able to pass on just one single book to a relative! Schools can and should do something about this.
Another step schools could take to to sell school crests separately - thereby allowing parents to shop around for cheaper alternatives in jumpers etc. They also need to relax some rules about uniform. If the uniform consists of say, a grey skirt or pants and maybe a green jumper; any grey skirt/pants should do (within reason) along with any green jumper (with the crest sewn on).
We should all be working together in these tough times to help each other. Not fighting against each other. Schools, in my experience, do an excellent and most valuable job. A little determination and pragmatism would go a long way towards reducing the cost of sending a child to school.
Most people are experiencing some degree of pain at the moment. Some more than others. Schools need to realise this and make some practical changes to assist parents where they can.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Waterford Bright Ideas Campaign

I must congratulate Liam Dunne and Cian Foley who, between them initiated and implemented a 'Bright Ideas' campaign through the Up The Déise website over the past few months. I have just finished reading a copy of the finished document which I picked up the Mayors office last week.

The ideas have been broken down into different categories: tourism; festivals, entertainment & sport; city presentation; business, retail & planning; education; environment and finally road infrastructure & traffic.

Some ideas are within the remit of the City Council (although not all) and should certainly be followed up on. I would suggest that the document should also be presented to the County Council as well as some other representative bodies like the Chamber of Commerce, Council of Trade Unions, Construction Industry Federation and indeed local TD's as some of the points suggested need to be changed at National level (rates deductions, allowing people on the dole to work etc.).

Overall it was a very positive document insofar as peoples' ultimate and deep concern for Waterford and for its' future is obvious.

I am happy to say that some issues which were raised are already being addressed. For example the commemoration of the Irish Flag and the move of Waterford Crystal into the ESB buildings next summer to name but two.

On the Waterford Crystal issue, it has to be said that the City Manager Michael Walsh has really, through his Trojan efforts on this project, saved the blushes of the government in my opinion. His efforts deserve mention and recognition. Waterford owes him a great debt on this one and in time, the huge impact that this decision will have for Waterford and for our potential will surely been seen.

Other issues in the document I personally found very interesting and I will certainly be following up on some in my capacity as a City Councillor and on the relevant committees on which I represent the citizens of this City.

The North Quays (pictured above showing a Tall Ship sailing past the huge, derelict hulk of the once imposing Ardree Hotel) featured heavily, as did WIT and its' continued struggle to achieve University Status.

One of the main things that I personally got from the document is the synergies that people feel could be created through links with other agencies/councils/bodies.

I, for one, certainly welcome the Bright Ideas document. It is great to see people putting their heads together for the benefit of our city and our community. The challenge is how to ensure that it isn't just left at that. Perhaps some kind of Farmleigh for Waterford might be a good next step to extrapolate a 'to do' list, get buy-in from the major players, and keep the momentum going to make Waterford a better place to live.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strategy for Higher Education

The Minister for Education & Science, Mr Batt O'Keeffe, has been saying all year that he is expecting the High Level Group on Higher Education Strategy to report to him before the end of this year. Will they? What will they say? Has the concession to the Green Party on fees upset the apple cart?
I've been having a look at the Higher Education Authority web-site where all the submissions which have been made to that group are published both in full and in summary format. (The FUSE one is particularly good.)
There are a considerable number concerning WITs application to be designated as a University. Now more than ever we must not let this ball drop. In these straitened times when jobs are deserting the entire nation, that drop is being felt even more acutely in Waterford and the Southeast with the continued and accelerated haemorrage of jobs from our traditional sectors: manufacturing, construction & agriculture.
How long more does our city have to wait to get what is rightfully ours. How long more must we wait before we have have equity for our children and their children in this region?
How long more - having hurdled every obstacle to date - can we be denied what will so obviously allow us to contribute more to this small nation and her recovery?
Martin Cullen was rightfully proud of his achievement at the official opening of the magnificent new bridge and bypass recently. However it will be a hollow victory if all it is used for is to ferry away our youth, or our graduates or indeed, our jobs.
We have the infrastructure 90% in place and with the completion of the M9 next year (we hear) a huge challenge will be to ensure that a University is delivered. On the back of that delivery will follow investment, jobs, innovation, purchasing power, productivity and a better outlook for us all.
Surely these are noble aims to which we have a right to aspire. I look forward to the report of the High Level Group. It is frustrating to be so constantly thwarted when what we are aspiring to is so obviously the right thing, and our right.
But we must persevere and I hope and trust that the High Level Group will concur with all the Internationally renowned experts when they said that WIT is 'already operating at University level'.
So will we see the report before the end of the year? That's 52 days from today. I, for one, am counting.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mattie McGrath TD and those Drink Driving Comments!

Has Mattie McGrath (pictured above with the Taoiseach) been drinking I ask myself? I mean really? For anyone to make such a badly thought-out statement that drinking could actually be good for nervous drivers! Is this man be serious?

Aside from Fianna Fáil delivering this country into ruin; aside from closing childrens operating theatres: aside from all of that - this is the issue that Fianna Fáil back benchers choose to revolt on?

There is so much wrong with this whole argument that I scarcely know where to begin and I have to say that I am totally behind Noel Dempsey on this one.

This whole rural argument thing is getting ridiculous: what's wrong with rural farmers, who, Mr McGrath tells us have NO friends or neighbours in the world to speak of that they could share a lift with, heading down to the pub (his only social outlet on the planet and without which - if you follow the logic to its' illogical conclusion - said Farmer/rural dwellers life would cease to have any meaning) for a non-alcoholic beverage? Say a pot of tea, or a pint of rock-shandy? Same company. Same venue. No deathly alcohol influence on the drive home! No pedestrian left dead because of a swerve. No driver left paralysed because of impaired co-ordination.

There are scientific, validated tests demonstrating the effect that just one pint has on the average drivers behaviour. I have seen them. I was a member of the National Safety Council, the fore-runner of the RSA for many years and that committee did much work educating the public as to the dangers of drink driving.

The bottom line is that if people want to drink alcohol, they should not drive. And if they want to drive they should not drink alcohol. Is this cruel? Not if you are one of the many many families who have lost loved ones either through being the victim of a drink driver or through drinking and driving themselves. The sad fact is that drinking and driving causes death. After just one drink you are many times more likely to be involved in an accident than you are without any alcohol. FACT.

We have acknowledged for many years that we in this country have a very warped relationship with alcohol. We need to grow up. No-one is saying not to be social. No-one is even saying not to go to the local pub. Just plan not to drink and drive. That's all.

Will the family who lose their daughter, or uncle, or grandfather - directly as a result of someone who had just the one, killing or injuring them - think it's okay? Will they thank Mattie McGrath and his followers? Or will they think that perhaps it might have been worth the self-control of abstaining from that one pint? I think so.

Yes there are other problems and issues that need to be dealt with. But none of them take away from the fact that this one also needs to be dealt with.

This isn't make believe. Real people die as a result of drivers who have had just one drink. But that must be a price that Mattie McGrath thinks is worth paying.

I do not.

Monday, October 19, 2009

N25 Waterford City Bypass Opened Today

It was a great (but very very cold) experience to be out at the new N25 Waterford City Bypass opening earlier today. There was a good turnout from the City, County and from Kilkenny to do the official nicities and I must say that all spoke very well.

Credit where credit is due though and I think its' fair to say that if Martin Cullen hadn't been Minister for Transport at the time, we might still be waiting for this particular piece of infrastructrure and indeed the new M9 to Dublin which should be opened within a year. So fair play to him, he has certainly delivered for Waterford and the South East in this score.

The bridge is due to open for traffic frfom about 4.30pm today and I sincerely hope that it will take some of the heavier traffic out of the city and make life easier for those travelling the Quays or up over the older part of town which had also become something of a rat-run for these huge trucks - in an area that was never designed to take that kind of traffic.

It also ties in nicely with the plans announced recently to claim back our Quays from traffic in conjunction with the delivery of a new iconic tourism building which was announced last week.

People have taken to calling the bridge 'the cat flap' which I think myself is slightly disparaging to Kilkenny people but they seem to like it. And at this stage, in the absence of any other name, it might just stick.

Personally I think we should come up with some inspirational name. My suggestion, for what its worth would be Bridge of the Sun or Droichead na Gréine! I believe the harbour was many centuries ago named Cuan na Gréine - or Harbour of the Sun. I think that's a gorgeous name and the new name for the bridge would refer back to that old one.

So there you have it. At last it's open. we should stand back and enjoy it. It's a good news day for Waterford.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Great Things About Waterford

I was driving from a Waterford Area Partnership Board meeting this evening which was held in FÁS and I passed the re-developed Presentation Convent in Slievekeale which now houses the Rowe Creavin Medical Practice and Halley Solicitors. What a fantatsic job has been done up there! And a far cry from the poor, decimated and dishevelled old Ursuline Convent building.

This redevelopment really is one of Waterfords' gems and checking out their website I see it also houses a café. That's two new coffee stops for me to try out in the not-too-distant future (the Lemon Tree Café in the Theatre Royal being the other one).

The old Presentation Convent is an example of how an old and under-used piece of our city history and architecture can be brought both smack bang up to date and into everyday use with a little imagination, a lot of belief and determination - and no little finance I am sure! But it is safe to say that it must rank now amongst Waterfords' great treasures.

Halleys and Mark Rowe and Ita Creavin and all those involved in this redevelopment deserve a great deal of thanks for a job really well done. It is another example of the great drive, enthusiasm and determination that Waterford people have in spades.

I wish - and I know I won't be thanked for saying it - that those Waterford people who expend huge energies being negative and knocking this great city would sit back and take a look. Yes, we have challenges - we always have had and probably always will on some level or other. But there are GREAT things happening, great plans being laid - and Waterford has never stopped striving to be the best it can be despite the many challenges thrown our way. I wish people would spend half the energy they use moaning, on getting out there and being part of the solution.

Last night, the City Manager made public an initiative that has been worked on for the past 6 months concerning getting Waterford Crystal up and running again (in a small way initially it's true), manufacturing crystal in this ancient city. This facility has an aim of bringing 250,000 tourists (minimum) to our city EVERY YEAR. (This is what the project must achieve to break even). An interim solution is hoped to be up and running with 80 jobs or so by as early as next May in the ESB offices and old bonded stores behind it - including a tank furnace. It will be 'real' Waterford Crystal.

The medium term aim is to build out into the River Suir behind the Clock Tower over the next 4 years and deliver an iconic tourism building which will underpin the city centre as well as giving us back our 'most noble quay in Europe'.

What a great vision. The sooner the better I say.

And just to round it all up, I mentioned at the top of this piece that I had been at a Waterford Area Partnership meeting earlier this evening where we reviewed the performance of the Services to Unemployed measure and took a look at how it has performed and what it focusses on. It turns out that over the last decade or so over 680 jobs have been created - over 80% of which were still in place 3 years later - through the work that goes on in that one measure (in collaboration with other agenies and partners of course which is how the partnership works). Now you don't get that announced in the newspapers but if another agency had created almost 700 jobs in 10 years they'd have the Taoiseach down announcing it (before they were even in place no doubt).

So take a bow, everyone in the Partnership. There is a lot of good work going on that never gets highlighted but which is absolutely crucial. I, for one, am proud to be a small part of it.

It's time for us all to start being positive about our city. The future is bright and we are capable of making it so. All we need is a little faith.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Motorway to Open as far as Kilkenny for Christmas

A friend pointed out an article to me today, carried in this weeks' Kilkenny People newspaper stating that the new Motorway from Waterford as far as Kilkenny will be open before Christmas. Well hallelujah if that is so! What bliss not to have to drive that absolute excuse for a road that Kilkenny County Council has foisted on us since time immemorial.
The article sadly details that many people lost their lives on the road as it is currently - which is a terrible indictment on those who allowed it, as a major inter-urban National PRIMARY route, to exist in its current state for so long. Shame on them.
Hopefully that is now almost at an end and before long we can look at halving - yes, halving - the amount of time it takes to drive the mere 30 miles to Kilkenny from a disgraceful 1 hour, to 30 minutes. (For those who are interested the photo shows a glimpse of the 'Main Road' as it passes Jerpoint Abbey - the absolute worst stretch IMHO).
I know people are concerned about Waterfords' present and indeed, our future but there can be no doubt but that the opening up of that road will play a huge part in opening up Waterfords' opportunities for inward investment and for easing costs. It can't come soon enough. Roll on Christmas!

Will The Government Last?

Maybe I'm reading the signs all wrong but I don't think the Greens are going to pull the plug this weekend. (If they do, expect an apologetic blog next week!) I think the Greens are still naive enough to think that they can achieve a lot if they stay. I think the trouble for the Government is going to come from the Fianna Fáil back-benchers.
Lets face it: all the indications are, that whenever the next election occurs, Fianna Fáil are going to lose their shirts and that all but the safest seats will be lost. So a back-bencher has nothing to lose and everything to gain locally by being seen to stand up to local cuts.
I use Michael Lowry as an example. I know he's not a FF back-bencher but it illustrates the principle. Regardless of the consequences, Lowry has let it be known that he will withdraw his support for the government if Tipperary Institute (his local college with a pupil-teacher ratio at a reported 1 to 4!) is closed - as per the recommendations in the McCarthy report. This guarantees him returning to Dáil Eireann by a grateful local electorate.
Now say if you're a FF back-bencher in a dodgy seat. What have you got to lose by seeking to save your own seat - and ONLY your own seat - by pulling down the government on some local issue of principle close to your constituents hearts? The electorate in Ireland have shown time and time again that they will reward TD's who put local interests ahead of anything else - even the so-called National Interest.
All of the work that's going into re-negotiating the Programme for Government at the moment with its aspirations to lessen TD numbers (some hope!) and to reform the expenses system is merely tinkering around the edges of what is a broken system. I feel sorry for TD's in one sense: you get elected on a promise of what you can deliver or will do - and once you have your knees under the table you discover pretty quickly that you can deliver nothing at all and can do fairly little either. This is the ultimate frustration of politics. You aspire to change the world but the system is designed to stay the same. So you content yourself with keeping your own personal, local electorate happy. Telling them what they want to hear even if this means sacrificing the greater good to do so.
So that's my prediction for what it's worth. I reckon Fianna Fáil will survive the coming Green Conference but will have a much tougher time getting a painful and cutting budget through their own back-benches.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

To Pee Or Not To Pee.....

I have just been listening to the prinicpal of a Cork secondary school on the News At One who hit the headlines after writing to parents of pupils asking them to send in toilet rolls! This - though a novel approach - is not a new problem. I have heard of schools rationing and counting squares on toilet rolls with limits on how much a child can have, depending on 'what they are doing'!

Now this is not born from anything in said schools other than that toilet roll purchase can run into tens of thousands of euro worth - in what are becoming ever tighter budgets in schools.

I myself sit on a national school Board of Management and I can confirm that we mostly spend our entire meetings trying to solve problems related to money and the lack of it. Where we should be discussing the pupils and their development.

I noted on the news that the Department of Education sent in a statement to the effect that the school in questions' capitation budget had increased. True - as have the schools costs, helped in no small part by additional costs which have been introduced for schools in recent years - with no subsequent additonal funding to cover these. Costs such as waste charges, water rates (schools are not exempt), wage agreements, along with cost increases in every other area practically that you can think of.

Does the Department really expect anyone to believe that the funding they provide actually covers the cost of running a school? Do they have children in schools themselves? All parents know the energies (and ingenuity) that schools expend on raising funds.

I know schools that tell the children they can afford heating or activities - but not both! And I have no reason to assume they aren't being straight up. Our teachers and schools (most of them) do a very good job but any extra energy should be spent tackling those who fall through the cracks, those who have additional problems -not fund-raising for loo-rolls. If my childrens' school asked, I'd happily stump up some toilet rolls - as I stump up for the many myriad fund-raising activities in their schools. One or two rolls doesn't make much of a dent in a budget but start trying to pay for the amount needed for a school of say, 500 children? That's a different prospect.

That's one big load of ...........

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Red Kettles' Play In The Park

I attended the Red Kettle Theatre Company production of A Midsummer Nights' Dream in the Big Top last night. What a great night! What a different, magical, colourful experience. At only €10 a head it was a steal. And, thanks to the good people of Waterford, it was packed out.

The set (bad photo above, sorry - taken on my phone afterwards) was spectacular and extremely well used: climbed on by Puck and Oberon, slept on by Titania (the wonderful Jenni Ledwell), danced on, fought on, loved on - even hosting a brawl in a pool!

Red Kettle really seem to come into their own with Shakespeare! Last year with Romeo and Juliet (unbelievably good) and now this offering. I really think that they are not getting the national acclaim which they so richly deserve.

I know that I could be seen as biased towards the company but it is so long since any involvement I try to look at their work with an objective eye. And I have to say, that if what we saw in Waterford last night, had been showing in Dublin, or Cork, or Galway, the national media would have been all over it like a swine-flu bug!

Keep up the good work Red Kettle. You are a credit to Waterford.

I can't finish without mentioning the 'locals' especially the younger ones: Puck played by Freddie Quinlan, Hermia played by Holly Browne, Lysander played by Alex Browne. Anne Riordan as Helena and all the many more. I see blossoming careers in time and real honest to God talent. Not of course forgetting the maestro Ben Hennessy who has a gift here!

At the very least I wish them as much pleasure and enjoyment as I got from my involvement with Red Kettle and other productions when I was their age. Oh and Bottom - Seamus Power - and all the 'players' were also superb. What a great night out!

Review as it appears in this mornings' Irish Times

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
People’s Park, Waterford

Ben Hennessy’s spirited and inventive production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an adventurous, fun-filled, family-friendly venture which remains utterly faithful to Shakespeare’s play. Despite being better subtitled Play in the Car Park, Hennessey creates a forest within Fosset’s Big Top circus tent with a landscape of layered plants which are laddered up towards the canvas ceiling to conceal entrances and exits in a magical way. Joe Harney’s original composition conspires with Chris Tyler’s sound design to enhance the supernatural atmosphere, and the purple and yellow hues of Conor Nolan’s lights also create an otherworldliness within the natural environment of the dressed tent.

A community collaboration, the play is performed by a mix of professional and amateur actors, but the less experienced cast members certainly step up to the mark, enlivening the subplot of the star-crossed lovers. Holly Browne and Anne O’Riordan, in particular, display a sophisticated understanding and enunciation of the verse. Meanwhile, a group of young performers from the area create a flurry of sparkling fairies, dancing across the earthen floor.

However, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is always stolen by the rude mechanicals, and with Seamus Nolan as the asinine Bottom/Pyramus, Ben Quinlan as Flute/Thisbe and Jamie Murphy as Starveling/The Wall, the best bits of Red Kettle’s production fall within the play-within-the-play device. At €10 a ticket, the Big Top was bursting with families, who remained engaged and animated until the closing moments, when “fairy time” descended on the night outside and the children were carried out home to their beds. This democratic pricing is to be applauded as much as the democratic production structure, which ensured that this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream involved and engaged with as large a Waterford audience as possible.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Declan Ganley Wrong AGAIN

I listened to Declan Ganley on with Marianne Finucane today and subsequently on the news going on about how the YES vote to the Lisbon Treaty is a huge endorsement of the Government for the next three years.

As usual, Declan is putting his own spin on this and as with almost everything else he has said, I completely disagree with him. It is so far from the truth in fact, that I would hazard a guess that if anyone on the YES side claimed it, they might risk a physical assault! I, for one voted YES but that in no way reflected any level of satisfaction with this government. I still think NAMA is a disaster. I still think the Government is quite likely to fall - this side of Christmas.

The sight of the Greens going in to renegotiate the Programme for Government 'in a strong position' is even laughable. Sure if they don't get what they want - are they going to walk? I don't think so. I still think the biggest risk to the Government comes from Fianna Fail back-benchers. They can't renegociate anything or be seen to deliver anything and I would imagine when they see all the strutting the Greens are doing (and will do if they are seen to, for example, reverse the education cuts) they will become an even more restless lot.

Anyway, the day belongs to the Lisbon Treaty. I haven't seen many NO advocates around. I wonder have they taken shelter...waiting for the sky to fall in?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Theatre Royal Magnificent

I took a sneak preview peek at the newly refurbished Theatre Royal yesterday (the box office and Lemon Tree Restaurant are open since today) and I have to say that it looks magnificent. It is a credit to the Board, the City Council, the staff, Ken Wigham Architects and the Builders (Clancy Construction I think?).
The new 'old' foyer is quite stunning. Simple but most effective and really demonstrates that less can indeed be more. The limestone circular steps arrangement (pictured above) is really beautiful and adorned overhead with the real thing - Waterford Crystal chandeliers.
There are 5, yes that's FIVE female toilets - whoohoo! And a great new access from the old foyer to the new foyer without having to go outside! The new 'new' foyer with box office is very welcoming and the Municipal collection now on semi-permanent display really adds to the space. The 'Lemon Tree Cafe' on the first floor will double as a bar, to be run by The Munster Bars at night when the there are performances on and perhaps it will be possible to use the area outside for tables and chairs for the cafe when the weather permits? What a great sense of life that would bring to our beautiful historic Mall.
As for the Theatre itself? The new seating arrangement with, wait for it....leg room is a great improvement and the intimacy that the reduction in seat numbers has allowed should make attendance there a truly special experience. The rake (slant) is gone from the stage, the orchestra pit has been enlarged (and air-conditioned). The colour scheme is strong but un-intrusive and the theatre has lost none of its special feel and appeal (for me anyway).
Backstage has seen improvements too with a new access stage right - from a new green room with toilets and showers. Bliss! The dressing rooms, for the moment have been accommodated in what people would know as the Committee Room in City Hall (couldn't get that far yesterday) but they must surely be a far better solution than the old ones. There are plans, when money beomes available to tackle that end.
All in all, a huge amount has been achieved with a very modest investment IMHO and I would sincerely like to congratulate all involved. The Theatre Royal is now fit for the next 100 years as a magnificent and historic Waterford venue. It has been missed and I welcome its' re-opening whole-heartedly.
I see that the first performance will be taking place on October 21st 'Mad About The Musicals 2009' followed by a Youth Dance celebration on the 24th and a presentation of 'My First Time' starring Keith Duffy on the 27th.
I am looking forward to 'Wallace, Balfe and Mr Bunn' directed by Ben Barnes which runs from 5th to 14th November - with the official opening taking place on the night of the 5th (by whom I wonder?). More information and bookings can be found at .
I look forward to many more generations of Waterfordians enjoying the entertainment on show at 'the Royal' and many more young and not so young locals getting the chance to start, hone or display their own talents on its stage.
Of course it goes without saying that I dearly hope that the 50th Waterford International Festival of Light Opera will take place there next year. (Followed by the 51st, 52nd, 53rd.............)
Well done all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are The Greens Living In The Real World?

I don't like political parties, any of them - lets get that one out of the way. I think that they are self-protectionist and put their own needs above those whom they are supposed to ultimately serve,that is the electorate - not their members.

Having said that, the more I watch them, the more I wonder if the Greens are living in the real world at all - or understand the way things work in that most beloved of their sacred cows - the planning system.
Aside from the fact that they are propping up the most despised government that I can ever remember - for which I am sure the electorate will get the chance to show their gratitude in time - they have recently come out with two beauties concerning planning.

Now planning is a very contentious issue and what I might not like, is another mans' bread and butter. But aside from your personal preferences, where are they coming from by thinking that (a) de-zoning land and or (b) a windfall tax, will reverse the ridiculous prices that have been demanded for land and houses in the last decade.

Firstly, there is a very strong argument to say that a shortage of zoned land has contributed to the cost of land and that de-zoning land will exacerbate this, increasing prices even more. Now I'm not talking about small towns that have had stupid re-zonings for thousands of homes in areas with no services or public transport etc. I'm talking about supply and demand. If there is a demand for houses in an area, then restricting the availability of zoned land would make that land more expensive surely.

Secondly, the imposition of a windfall tax on developers as proposed by the Greens in order to make NAMA more saleable to their members, will simply, rightly or wrongly, be added onto the price for the eventual end-buyer - be that a first-time buyer or anyone else. That's the way commerce works. If it costs more to deliver; it costs more to buy.

So despite the best of intentions (I am sure) I do not believe that either of those two approaches would deliver the desired results for the Greens. It's a case of unintended consequences: sometimes, the very interventions you make to prevent something, actually cause the problem you were trying to solve, to become worse.

How can reducing the supply of land and increasing the cost of delivering houses do anything other than contribute to increasing the cost providing and buying houses in the future. Maybe I'm mis-understanding it?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rody Molloy & that Pension Boost

It cannot have escaped the notice of ex-Waterford Crsytal workers - or indeed the good people of Waterford, that while they did nothing wrong, their pensions have nonetheless been whipped out from under them without so much as a by-your-leave.
The irony then, of one Rody Molloy of FÁS fame and his seeming heaps of wrong-doing - ranging from deliberately keeping information from the Board of Directors (allegedly) to all sorts of ridiculous over-spending on non-running tv commercials and the like - not only keeping his pension, but getting it topped up!
There really does seem to be one law for those in the inner circles that does not apply to the ordinary citizen of this country.
And in a further twist Mr Molloy has only today resigned as Chairman of the Institute of Public Administration - not a paying post - but nonetheless a body that lectures civil and public servants on, among other things, ethics, transparency and good governance.......!
Irony heaped upon irony. We'll have to invent a new word for that. How about birony: the act (or art?) of engaging in two or more ironic situations at the same time. LOL!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Treatment of Criminals

I write this blog in the context of the very sad death of Paddy Barry earlier today and although I don't wish to intrude on the Barry family and their deep grief, I do most certainly want to express my sympathy to them on the tragic and untimely death of their much loved father and grandfather.

There is nothing anyone can say to ease their grief and they face a trying time now, probably made worse by the glare of media attention. Please God, their justifyable anger will transmit into some positive action to deal with the issue raised by Keith - which is that these criminals have neither respect for, nor fear of, the law.

Why is that? The Gardai in my opinion, do a tremendous job on these sensitive cases. They liaise closely with the families and commit huge time, effort and resources into trying to bring those guilty parties to justice through the courts.

That, in my opinion though, can be where justice ends. In the courts. Very often, the sentence does not seem to fit the crime. I support Keith Barry and his call for at least wanting those found guilty to have to serve a minimum sentence. I think it would be a very good thing and perhaps those thinking of committing these type of crimes might think twice if they knew they would serve a good long sentence if caught and found guilty.

My problem though is that, regardless of how long they serve, those criminals invariably come out the other side of a prison sentence far worse, having served an 'apprenticship' in prison with violent criminals, in a possibly violent environment and then, they are released back into society - very seldom having 'learned their lesson' or as better, chastened, or even sorry people, never to err again.

So how do we break that circle? I wrote an article a number of years ago where I advocated that criminals should be sent to boot camp. Where they would learn discipline, respect for themselves and others and the value of hard work (as part of a custodial sentence or instead of one for lesser crimes).

At the time the 'sniggering classes' and PC brigade ridiculed that suggestion. Personally I still think the arguement holds, and is valid. Can anyone seriously argue to me that prison works? Yet what is the alternative? We certainly have to lock these kinds of people away. Society deserves to be protected.

But look at recent evidence. I need go no further than last weeks' news and the story about the sex offender who was released (twice) only to re-offend within hours (twice). Now I know that sex-offenders are a slighlty different case, but the principle remains the same. How much crime is committed by 'former' inmates? Almost all I would say, if you were to conduct an analysis certainly almost all of violent or dangerous crimes.

So by all means, I agree with Keith Barry: put them away. But please come up with some way to remediate them, to teach them self respect and discipline. Otherwise we just delay the day when they re-emerge into society as more violent, more hardened and more dangerous criminals. What does that achieve?

My suggestion is a type of boot camp because for sure - whatever is happening now, it's not working.

Again, my sincerest condolences to Keith and to his family. To lose a loved one in this manner is unimaginable torture. My thoughts are with them all.

The Frontline

I watched the new Pat Kenny fronted RTE programme The Frontline last night and I must say that I enjoyed it. I thought the audience were well picked, the guests (including the celebrity ones in the front row) were mostly worth having there and I thought that a good, indepth discussion was allowed to develop on the whole NAMA issue.
As to whether it helped me to make up my mind on NAMA, I'm less sure. But with such diametrically opposing views from seemingly equally well-informed and qualified people coming from both sides, it's very difficult to know who's right.
However, two things make up my mind for me: firstly, I do not trust Fianna Fail. That's just the way it is. They are too associated and intertwined (interbred even!) with those in the banking, (non) regulation and developer communities. I have written on this blog before about this issue and everything I see and hear just confirms it for me. It would be a very interesting exercise to map out the inter-relationships within those circles. That might open a few eyes. (Lets include the media for the craic!)
The second thing that made me sit up and say no-way last night was the information from Fintan O'Toole that around €30 billion of the €54 billion buy out/bail out, whatever you want to call it, is going to one Anglo Irish Bank!!! This is extraordinary. A dead bank with less than 50 clients who, between them have bankrupted the bank and the country. For why, I have to ask? Nothing good can come of it for the ordinary taxpayer and as a result of those two things I am anti-NAMA.
That is not to say that I either have, or understand the complexities of the alternatives and Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore do not fill me with confidence on that front either.
I suppose that this is the nub of the issue politically, really. Fianna Fail, whenever the next election comes, should be finished - although there is no way that I believe their core support is as low as some polls are indicating - but when you look across the Dail Chamber at the alternative you have to ask yourself: what's better about them? Other than a lack of those invidious inter-relationships I mentioned earlier. In my book anyway, they probably deserve their chance at this stage.
As for the Greens? Well, historically, any party that has propped up a Fianna Fail administration has suffered subsequently. Look at Labour and the Progressive Democrats. They were punished by a combination of the 'Anyone But Fianna Failers', their own voters and the swing voters. I suspect the Green Party may suffer a similar fate.
And as for NAMA - can it be stopped? The only way to stop it at this stage, in my humble opinion, would be to topple the Government.
What would that take? Could we do it? Do we care enough? Is it worth it? Now there's an interesting question........ Maybe they could debate that one on The Frontline next Monday!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Irelands' Sail Training Future

Sail Training International have shown a huge committment to Ireland in the recent past - and indeed for the foreseeable future. Their most high-profile event, the International Tallships Race, having been in Waterford in 2005, makes a welcome return in 2011. Further to that it will return to these shores again the following year in 2012 when Dublin will play host to the event.

All the more pity then, that Ireland currently has no sail training programme and if Mr McCarthy of An Bord Snip Nua fame gets his way, it will not have one into the future in order to save an immediate €3m (insurance payment claimed on Asgard II) and to further save €0.8m annually - the cost of running the sail training programme - which by the way, came entirely from Lottery funds.

The main reason that the Tallships Races are held at all, is to promote youth development through the fantastic medium of sailing. I can personally attest to its usefulness, as, with a husband who has for the greater part of our marriage been Captain of one or other Sail Training Ship, I hear regularly of the changes it has wrought in otherwise hard-to-reach youngsters; others who may have gone off the rails; some who need to gain maturity or even those who have suffered severe disadvantages in their lives. Sailing on a ship, in many cases seems to give so much more than the obvious to these young people. Much more benefit than can be measured by the mere cost of running a sail training programme.

Add to that the enormous value of Asgard II to Ireland in terms of International flagwaving duties and the goodwill engendered when she visited foreign ports. I know for a fact she was worth far more to the Country than the paltry €0.8m is cost to keep her and keep her sailing.
However there are some who measure everything in terms of 'cost' and know nothing of 'value'. For a very small (Lottery) investment, Asgard II delivered enormous value to this small Country and indeed would surely have no peer as both the prettiest and indeed one of the most loved and famous ships in the worldwide Tallships fleet. It is so sad then, to think of her sitting upright and not badly damaged (we hear) on the bottom of the ocean off the coast of France.

Sadder far though, is that the demise of Asgard II seems to have heralded the demise too of Irelands' entire Sail Training Programme. Such a pity, when the International Tallships Race, the premier sail-training proponents in the World have shown such faith in Ireland (and our comittment to sail training??) by awarding us the race in two of our Countries best cities and ports; Waterford in 2011 and Dublin in 2012.
I welcome sincerely the announcement of Des Whelan as the Chairman of the Tallships event for Waterford in 2011. Des has a unique experience and is well capable of delivering an even better event for Waterford than the wonderful festival in 2005 which is universally fondly remembered by all our citizens. He has a huge task in front of him but I know that he will pull the right people together to work their collective fingers to the bone to deliver for our ancient port city.
Hopefully by the time the Tallships visits Waterford, the Government and relevant Minister (Willie O'Dea) will have had a change of heart on the value of sail training and will have re-instated our national programme, although sadly, probably with a different vessel. Hopefully someday Asgard II can be rescued from her watery resting place where, thankfully, I am told that her wooden hull should not have deteriorated over what could turn out to be a long, long time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lisbon Yes or No?

Personally speaking I could argue for both a Yes and a No vote to Lisbon!
However my no vote argument doesn't have anything to do with opposing the Lisbon Treaty - as I don't. But to be honest I'm not inclined to give the Government any win or credit by giving them what they want i.e. a yes vote.

However on balance I feel that this would be (proverbially) cutting off the countries nose to spite its' face. That doesn't mean that people won't take the opportunity to give the Government a bloody nose. I mean who wants to hear them crowing in the event of a 'yes'?

I don't think there could be a worse time for the referendum to be held as the amount of anger at the Government is astonishing. People are feeling sore and bitter and bracing themselves for a whole lot more financial pain. They still can't understand how it all went so wrong, so quickly. All with the distinct feeling that much of this could have been avoided with better management and an eye to the unsustainable taxes (see earlier blogs) which were treated as if they would last forever.

Then I look at who is leading the opposition and, of course, my Yes vote is confirmed. They're like Chicken-Licken running around shouting about the sky falling in (on every single EU vote that I can remember) which of course, it won't. Having said that, they are campaigning better than the Yes side.

Ireland needs to be on the pitch, playing with the big boys rather than on the sidelines watching the action. When you consider the original aims of the European project - they still stand. And it has delivered a long, peaceful period to an otherwise very volatile continent. Look at our history. Surely emphasizing co-operation and our 'European-ness' can only help to keep us all together, and working with each other rather than against each other.
Europe has delivered very positively for Ireland and we should be 'taking the hand from the wrist' off of them to ensure that we continue to play a role which is completely out of proportion with our small size.
I'm not convinced the Government can win this vote though. People want a change (of government) and their vote may well be more influenced by their emotions rather than by any consideration of what is a clumsy and difficult to read treaty. If that happens then the blame will lie firmly with an unpopular and unmandated (in these circumstances) Government which seems incapable of giving up power.

As for the Green Party? No matter what the surgery they are trying to convince us they are performing, it will be seen as cosmetic surgery only - when the big issue is keeping those deemed most responsible for this mess i.e. Fianna Fáil, in power. They will be punished for that no matter what they do.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Nell McCaffety Refused Treatment

I read an article in the Irish Times today that shocked me. It's about one woman: Nell McCafferty and a neurosurgeons' refusal to treat her because she was 'terse' with his staff.
Boo bloody hoo for his staff, I say!

Now Nell is not every ones' sup of tea. She's opinionated. She's testy. She's aggressive and to be honest she annoys the hell out of me a lot of the time. But that's neither her nor there.

The bottom line is: we have all, for a long time, dealt with the unspoken knowledge that you have to somehow 'charm' neurosurgeons or their secretaries in order to try and speed up or gain access that you might not otherwise get.
I can't tell you how many people have reported to me that they receive appalling treatment from these people but are afraid to speak up because they don't want to compromise their case.
Now it seems that they are right. Be mean to the staff and you will be refused treatment. Or, as in this case, turn up only to have had your appointment cancelled while the letter informing you was 'in the post'. Yeah.

The neurosurgeon in question and his staff should be ashamed of themselves. It seems that we all have to be humble, and sheepish, and grovelling in order to get what in this case is life-saving treatment.

So. A woman - a worried woman who had a brain aneurysm diagnosed (a condition which has caused death and devastation among her immediate family) was 'terse' with his staff. My God who does he think he is?
I think Nell should make a formal complaint both to the hospital and whatever his governing body is and all this blather that he is coming out with, saying that because he cancelled her appointment she was never his patient and he therefore has no responsibility to her should be seen for what it is: a powerful man, demanding a subserviant demeanor for him and for his staff from us lesser important mortals.

Aside from how you feel about Nell McCafferty, in this instance: Nell is me. Nell is you. A sick person seeking treatment.

So you can be refused that treatment if the staff don't like you now???? Well, what we always suspected is true then.

Photo shows Nell McCafferty in conversation with school girls.

Bad News From TEVA

Teva Pharmaceuticals in Waterford City have just announced 350 job losses over the next year from their 750 strong workforce. This is another devastating blow for the city from a profitable company which has been here for quite some time. Reports abound that the company is transferring to cheaper locations in Eastern Europe.

Other than mere platitudes - calls for task forces (has one ever delivered anything, anywhere??) and the like what does Waterford need to do to try and stem this tide of redundancies and try and build up for the future?

In my opinion there are some things that can be done. Whether anyone has the gumption to actually do them or not is the question. What are those things?

A University for the South East. Lets face it, Universities attract investment and jobs. Just look at Galway which was a small town of 15,000 people which has grown through investment to over 70,000.

Waterford Crystal. The Waterford Crystal brand is still huge. Government investment needs to come to the city to bring those showrooms and some manfacturing jobs right into the heart of the city. Those tourists are still coming. We need to make sure that they still come and that they deliver more for Waterford and a move to the city centre would achieve that.

A constraint on planning objections (it may well be too late for this one). Planning delays and objections - headed up by zealots and even (can you believe it) by people who are elected now to Waterford City Council, caused so much delay to some projects that they have not started and those delays have by extension cost this city thousands of jobs.

Government investment. The Government is going to have to stimulate the economy of Waterford and indeed Ireland though strategic investment to underline its own policy of Gateways driving growth in their regions.

Airport investment. If you are a company looking for a site there are certain things you are looking to be ticked off. University; tick? Airport; tick? If international access is not available then where is it available.

Re-organising of local government to ensure that the Gateways are not diluted by parish pump politics which threatens the sustainability of a region.

These are just some of the things that I believe could make a real difference.

How do we get those things? Our Government TD's. If they can't put Waterford before party politics at this stage then why are they there? If it were me I would be threatening to bring down the Government at this stage over the University issue alone - not to mention all the other issues.

How many more job loss announcements can this city afford? Every job lost has a huge ripple effect in the wider community. When do we cross the line in the sand?

Give us our University now. It is a huge tool in attracting and developing a region. Invest in Waterford Crystal. Invest in our Airport. Invest according to your own National Spatial Strategy. Stop amateur objecters costing us jobs. Extend the City administrative area.

Do I think that any of this will happen? If it doesn't we're in even bigger trouble than we should be. Does anyone have the heart for the fight? Do the people that are in those crucial positions? If not, what are their solutions. What can they do to help Wateford? Ask them. Ask the question: what does Waterford need to get itself out of this situation and what are you going to do to deliver it?

If I was in a position to deliver: I would. Waterford first. Not party. Not power. Some things are more important.


(Photo shows Teva Pharmaceuticals HQ in Jerusalem)