Thursday, March 19, 2009

Phoenix Column, Waterford News & Star

Some of you will have read in this weeks News & Star that I criticised the Phoenix Column. (Oh sin of sins!) Well yes I did, but not for the reasons that the Phoenix has written about in his column. I do not intend to answer him (and we all know really, who 'he' is - if he was offended by my 'it' terminology. I'm just playing along with his anonymous game! And if I meet him in the course of my day to day dealings I will continue his little charade - after all, acting was my first passion!) But I take this opportunity here to lay out my case honestly.

Let me preface by saying that Phoenix has always been fair to me as far as I can remember, when referring to me by name but not when referring to 'the Council' of which I am a member.

Anyway. Phoenix alleges this week that I said that he should not criticise the City Council. Now does he really think that I or any of my colleagues are naive enough or narcissistic enough to think that we are beyond criticism? Hello? We're in politics! That's the territory we inhabit. I personally often seem to be a magnet for it. I, quite simply, never said anything like that!

My point, and it is perfectly illustrated by Phoenixs' incorrect reporting of the reason for my annoyance, is that he consistently harps on about the Council, often inaccurately, without ever attending a meeting or hearing for himself.

He constantly berates Councillors for only caring about 'rampaĆ­' - as he puts it (which he seems to obsess about much more than any Councillor I have ever met); which has never been discussed in any great detail in the Council chamber in my 10 years as a Councillor.

He says (and he reapeated it this week) that Councillors use waivers to 'buy' votes! That is not only incorrect - it is scandalous or at least it would be, if it were true. I have never had any hand act or part in getting a waiver for anyone. I certainly have never used them to 'buy' votes but, for the record (and I have argued this in the Council chamber as recently as our November budget meeting) I do agree that there are far too many people on waivers making our entire waste-management collection scheme unsustainable as far as I am concerned.

He is kind enough to say that he thinks that both I and Cllr Mary O'Halloran are good Councillors and that he would vote for us! Why? If all we ever do is argue about bloody ramps and buy votes with waivers? You just cannot tar everybody with the same brush. I do not argue that there are Councillors who, in my opinion, are not in it for the right reasons but I am not one of them and I will be damned if Phoenix thinks he can continually label me as one and that I will continue to accept it. Ultimately, the decision on who is elected and for what reasons is artbitrated on by the public and they have draconian measures available to them for those whom they believe are not delivering or are not in it for the right reasons.

In fact, I don't have an issue even with Phoenixs' anonymity. I think there is a place for it. However over the past number of years the Phoenix has gone on and on about his pet issues. Often, it has to be said, not placing the blame where it truly lies. And often being misleading about who can or cannot solve these - hugely important in many cases - problems.

However, I must honestly add here that I have never seen, in any other local newspaper on this Island or beyond, a column that is so negative about its home place. As far as I am concerned, the Phoenix column oftens compounds our problems rather than helps to solve them. There are plenty lining up to knock Waterford; I would argue that we should not be doing it to ourselves. We all know what the issues are. Some of us are actively trying to solve them in whatever limited way we can, rather than festering the wounds and playing into the hands of those who would do us down.

This week Phoenix also says (along with committing his vote if it were in our wards to myself or Mary O'H!) that he does not think that we should be paid anything other than legitimate expenses. Now when I got elected first in '99 that was all there was. And I ran a communications company as my main source of income. Now - and again he wouldn't know this because he is not familiar enough with the facts - being a Councillor is virtually a full-time job. I have given up my company, such is the time requirement. (I'm not moaning just stating the facts - see earlier blog: Local Councillors, Over Paid or Undervalued? which goes into this in more detail). And if I was the main earner in our home we simply could not survive on a Councillors income. Quite frankly, if this were the case now, Phoenix could hold onto his vote because I, for one, simply could not do this work properly an would not be running for election at all. Although I could probably do two meetings a month, or so and not really know about any of the issues other than superfluously thus ensuring the continuance of all the bads things that we sought to change about the way things have been done in the past.

So come on, Phoenix. Times have changed. Being a Councillor is not what is was even 10 years ago. It is practically a full-time job - for me, anyway. And I, for one am not afraid to defend what I do - even when I can't win. I am proud to be a City Councillor in my home town that I love. I am proud to represent the people of Waterford and I will stand over my record and my motives in any forum - even one where I cannot see my accusor. I work hard. I study the issues hard. I defend Waterford to the last. I fight for her in every forum. And I am fed up of being tarred with your 'rampaĆ­' brush. All it does is denigrate my work, the people I work for and my city. And quite frankly, it is inaccurate reporting.

So there you have it. Most of which you would know if you were as invloved as I am, or ever attended meetings of the Council, Joint Policing Board, City Development Board, WIT, Waterford Area Partnership, Waterford Youth Committee, Planning & Economic Development Strategic Policy Committee, City of Waterford Vocational Education Committee, Sports Partnership, Regional Planning Guidelines Committee, Transportation and Infrastructure Strategic Policy Committee, Area Meetings, Airport Board, Museum of Treasures Board, Theatre Royal Board, Regional Assembly, Regional Authority, Health Forum (and so on and so on and so on) meetings that I and my Council colleagues do.

It's time to update your understanding of what it means to be a Councillor in 2009. I know I have. I think its high time the correct motives were brought back into politics. Democracy is the best governance solution that we have and I think that decent politicians (the kind the media always eulogizes in the obituaries column!) started to stand up for democracy and for their profession. As for the dishonest ones, the sooner they go the way of the Dodo, the better for us all. But thats out of my hands, I'm afraid.
Photo shows the Statue of Liberty, symbolising for me, hope and freedom - two cornerstones of democracy.

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