Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Speed Dating for Politicians!!!!

I attended a speed-dating (or speed canvassing maybe?) event this evening organised by Comhairle na nÓg, or Voice of The Young in City Hall. It comprised about 8 Councillors and a number of young people who had 3 minutes exactly to speak to each other, followed by a 30 second break (where the young people 'scored' the politicians), before the next person arrived. And so on and so on until everybody had spoken to everybody.

I must say that I enjoyed it and it was a very invigourating event. It is heartening that the young women (mostly) and one young man who attended (a) bothered to come and (b) were articulate and interested in very many facets of City life - as evidenced by their concerns and, in many cases solutions.

Some of them I had met before, both when they presented recently at a formal meeting of City Council - very nerve wracking I know, and earlier last year when they organised a rally in John Roberts Square to protest at the education cuts at second level which were imposed by Minister Batt O'Keffee and invited me to be one of the speakers. I must say that they were very impressive. They were obviously aware of local issues and keen to have an input.

As someone who has campaigned for young people to attend the City Council meetings I must say I find this very heartening. I suspect that some of the young people and one young girl in particular might make an impression on the political scene in years to come. I certainly encourage that - we need more women in politics. Lots more women. Although it is not easy with children I have to say.

But thats not the issue here. I want to detail some of the concerns the young people were interested in. They ranged from public lighting in the Peoples' Park and The River (Suir) Walk, to supervision of some sort in the park. Pedestrian safety at Abbey Road and Ballybricken also featured, as did public awareness of the work of the Dog Pound and dog fouling in the suburbs (yeuch!). Disability access also came in as something which concerned young people as well as homelessness - especially youth homelessness. Finally the availability of and awareness of sporting facilities was raised.

I have to say that the last one interests me greatly (although I am certianly not known for a great interest in sport) but it allowed me to get onto a hobby horse of mine and one which I have spoken about before, which is the availability of sporting activities for girls. Ironically it was the one young man in attendance at the event who raised this issue and in fact he agreed with me that sports facilities for boys were far more widely available (and often free or very cheap) while many of the sports and activities preferred by girls are not free, and can in fact be very expensive and often have long waiting lists.

It galls me is, not that if my son wants to play soccer or hurling or rugby that he can go along any Saturday and be made welcome, but that the sport which my daughter favoured i.e. tennis - had a 12 month or so waiting list (this was a number of years ago I'm not sure of the situation now) and was quite expensive to join. (Not the fault of the Tennis Club, I hasten to add - they are providing a magnificent facility.) I would certainly like to see another Tennis Club coming on stream in the City. There is obviously room for it with those kind of numbers.

Gymnastics was another thing she wished to try but as above, it was not as easy as 'coming along on Saturday'. Now before you say it, I know that many girls play soccer and camogie etc., but not anything like the number of boys that do so and they tend not to stick with those sports in the same way that boys do (again I know there are some exceptions). I also know that many boys play tennis and gymnastics, but not as many asa are members of the very many soccer, rugby and GAA clubs in the City. And I'm gald we have those clubs. They provide an invaluable service. I'm just questioning the same (free) availability and organisation of activities for girls.

The skatepark provided by City Council is mainly frequented by boys - while girls tend to want more socialising - a place to hang out, or dance or act etc. My own daughter is a member of Breakbeat and would go up there 7 days a week if she could.

Why is it that the free stuff is there for boys sports and not for girls? Almost all the things that girls like to do costs money. This has bothered me for ages and I'm glad I was reminded of it. Maybe we can start to affect change in this balance. I also had to agree with him that the awareness of all the sporting facilities needs to be worked on in order to ensure that even more people take part in very enjoyable, healthy activities.

Although I add a caveat that I do not subscribe to the paranoia that exists regarding obesity at the moment. I'm not at all convinced that it isn't being driven by simple marketing behind it all. When you 'follow the money' as I like to do to get to the root of many issues, you arrive at very powerful food marketing companies that want to sell you food with healthy or even (alleged) medicinal attributes - like cholesterol lowering yoghurts and the like. I do not observe a massive amount of fat children over and above what was in my own class/school when I was younger. But who am I to question the motivation and statistics of the 'big guns'.

Anyway, I have committed to looking more closely at some of these issues and coming back to them later in the year with information on what action we can take, which (if I'm re-elected) I will certainly do.

I must keep an eye on some of these young people. I think its fair to say that they represent a good percentage of young people. They were well mannered, well informed and passionate. I thought the whole event was a great idea and well organised (as always - well done Sue!) and well worth doing. It's only a pity that just two of them had a vote and none of those in my ward! LOL! I expect to see them go on and achieve great things. Lets hope they do.

Congrats to all involved.

Photo shows the skatepark in the Peoples Park.

Tall Challenges
I want to steer away for a while from the ever more depressing economic news that is coming at us from every direction. In fact I met someone recently who told me that they had stopped reading newspapers and listening to the radio altogether. I have to say, I thought that was a bloody good idea! And then I heard the even more depressing tones of George Lee on RTE this morning (no one can top his voice for doomsaying) about the even higher predictions for the unemployment figures and now I'm thinking of joining my friend on the news boycott!
Anyway back to the headline, which is I suppose at least related to all the bad news. The Tallships Race is due to return to Waterford in 2011 just two short years from now, over a weekend in July. While the hosting of this event generates a huge economic boost for the region - as did the last one - it also costs a huge amount of money to organise and run. Money which is in an ever diminshing supply!
I see that the Government is funding the arrival next month of the Round the World Ocean Yacht Race into Galway to the tune of €8m. Now to my memory, the Government contributed just €1m (if even that) to Waterford for the running of the 2005 festival.
The challenges facing us this time are greater, both locally and economically. The port company will no doubt be on a tighter budget, as are the City Council and, as we all know, the Government. Local sponsors can be expected to be feeling the pinch also. And the work that needs to be done will be even greater. A weekend visit should ensure even more visitors than the 500,000 or so that came last time and the North Quays are deteriorating every day. I think it is fair to assume that no development will have taken place there by then (under the current circumstances) but the area will still need to be brought back to a presentable, accessible and dare I say, even attractive area.
Add to that that a local champion or Chairman/woman also needs to be found (and soon!) to drive this forward. Last time it took several years of planning to ready ourselves under the dynamic Chairmanship of the late, loved, Nicky Fewer who ticked all the right boxes and was a keen sailor himself, very committed to the concept of sail training. We must be looking to begin that work again soon.
The Government must step up to the mark with support once again. You would have to assume (rightly or wrongly) that with the Minister for Tourism in this constituency, this will happen. The City Council must begin the job of readying the city and the people. The port must again roll in with all the support that made the event such a success the last time and we must ensure that this time we can build a legacy for the Tallships. Consideration should be given to linking in with other nearby ports and instigating a lasting festival - perhaps bi-annually - that will ensure that we don't have to wait 5 years and possibly longer before we can attract these magnificent ships into our city quays again.
We have things to look forward to in Waterford. The Tallships provides free and breath-taking entertainment, a feast for the eyes and the soul, to our citizens and visitors. We've done it once already and the next time it should be even better. Lets hope the festival gets a fair breeze to keep it on track.
Photo was provided by Joe Evans of the Waterford News & Star and show a view of the Tallships with the City backdrop in 2005. Thanks Joe!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fianna Fáil Should 'Do the decent thing' and call General Election - Roche

The following is a Press Release issued for this weeks newspapers (week commencing 13/4/09) Got great coverage from Tom Young in the Munster Express and honourable mention in News & Star. Two good mentions in Waterford Today, one for this press release and another on City Centre retail grouping).

City Councillor Mary Roche. "They should do the decent thing and go and seek a mandate from the Country," she says "for this new era and the type of policies that are required to deal with it."

"People have the right to have these policies debated wholly and in the open and they have the right to make their choices based on all this new information" she said.

Neither Fianna Fáil nor the Green Party have a mandate from the electorate for the current trying times and she argues that now, post budget is the right time to 'come clean' and ask people to endorse them and their current policies if they so wish.

While she believes that this is the correct course of action she does not believe that either Fianna Fáil or the Greens will do the honourable thing (i.e. go to the country) as they know well that such a course of action would leave them "all but wiped-out".

"I certainly know that they would have many questions to answer on their performance nationally and in Waterford," she continued. "I would like to ask them a few questions myself" she said "on crucial local issues such as the disgraceful demise of our flagship industry Waterford Crystal, the continuing farce of the closure of St Bridgets Ward in St. Patricks Hospital, the lack of investment in public radiotherapy at WRH, the absence of Breastcheck, the robbing of teachers and investment from disadvantaged schools, the ignoring of our University application for 3 years and 2 months (so far), the pulling of the Gateway Innovation Fund, the abandonment of decentralisation after riding that wave for years."

Mary accused the current coalition Government of "playing fast and loose with peoples lives and livelihoods"."The list goes on and on and on," said Roche. "Its so bad now that you have Fianna Fáil candidates in the forth-coming local elections publicly trying to dissociate themselves from their own party policies and responsiblilties.""However as I learned in my 10 year political sojourn to date, if you stand for a party, you are, by extension, standing for their policies," she said. "I was elected for Fianna Fáil 10 years ago and served four years in that party before I resigned in dissappointment and disgust at their failure to deliver on their 2002 (9 years ago!!) election promise of public radiotherapy for our cancer patients. I understood that by being a Fianna Fáil Councillor I would be giving my implicit support and acceptance of that stand. I refused. If my party had the kind of policies that I could not stand over, then I would not stand for them and so I resigned."A General Election would give Fianna Fáil the chance to tell us all why we should 'take the pain' for the misery inflicted by them. Tell us why we should be happy that our mortgage payments are reducing - when our incomes are reducing by much more. They could tell us why we get sicker in our hospitals. Tell us why a new geriatric hospital is not built in St. Patricks before the patient numbers are reduced.

"In the face of monumental mis-management of Ireland plc., serious lack of investment in Waterford and in ALL of our services, I know that the Fianna Fáil party have no intention of going to the Country at this time," said Mary "however that doesn't stop it being the right thing to do. Convince us that you weren't looking out over the stern of the good ship Ireland, while she was heading for the shallow reefs".

Go to the Country Fianna Fáil. If you have the courage of your convictions.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Warm Welcome for new Retail Grouping

I have to say that I am delighted with the formation of the new 'Waterford Independent Traders' Group to represent the interests of some of the small businesses in the city, as reported in this weeks local newspapers. It is great that the retail community is getting active and it will be interesting to see what this group will bring to the table.

I have spoken in the past about the need for some retailers to invest more in their premises in Waterford City. We have policies in our Development Plan protecting the primacy of the City Centre but that policy in under increasing pressure from attempts by neighbouring authorities to undermine our core shopping offering. The stronger the City is, the more we will be able to resist those pressures.

The City Council has invested heavily in the award-winning urban design of Waterford and in promoting the City as a destination for shopping as well as trying to attract new shopping investment and anchor tenants who would underpin the shopping offering available here. I hope that this new retail group will become as active as the very active Retail Committee of the Chamber of Commerce which has always been a very constructive force for the betterment of the city.

We have invested in many joint ventures with the Chamber such as the provision of the Carousel at Christmas in John Roberts Square, which was widely welcomed. The more businesses that are willing to invest, the easier it will be to ensure the attractiveness of the City all year round.

Perhaps those amongst this group who are owners of premises might look at the provision of larger (circa. 1,000 sq metre) units which are totally missing in Waterford. Investment in promotion of the city at key times of the year including Christmas and the summer is also key. The retailers are perfectly placed to offer incentives to attract shoppers to Waterford which will of course benefit their own bottom line. Any action is to be welcomed. After all we are all on the same side, promoting our wonderful city and working together to overcome these difficult times.
Photo shows the fireworks display (as seen from the decks of the Prince William Captained by my husband Liam) at the Tallships Festival in 2005 in Waterford, which is returning in 2011 - an event which was attracted by Waterford City Council as a boost for tourism and shopping in Waterford.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Budget Unbalancing Act!
There's stress and there's stress. I listened to a woman speaking to Brian Lenihan on the traditional post budget phone-in on Pat Kenny's radio show on RTE Radio 1 today. She was stressed. She told us of her situation and how her disposable income was so low and her future so uncertain that she couldn't sleep anymore. And what did Brian have to say? He told her he was stressed too after having to bring in two budgets in less than a year! Awwwww poor Brian!
Poor Brian my eye. Firstly, the reason he has had to bring in two budgets in under six months is his own and his parties fault. They have been standing watch - and obviously looking out over the stern of the good ship Ireland when they should have seen this on the radar and taken evasive action. And secondly, stress, real stress, is not knowing where the money to pay the next bill is coming from, or how you are going to meet all your committments.
No matter how stressed poor Brian is, none of it affects him personally. He has heaps of money in his personal coffers with his outrageous pay! His kids schooling or college doesn't put a dent in his earnings. He's not worried at the 1st of the month that the mortgage repayment is going to put him over his over-draft limit. He's not delaying taking his child to the doctor because he can't afford the €50! That's real stress.
He was also very 'holier than thou' (is it me or does he have a tendency to be very preachy?) in his attitude to people who shop over the border seeking better value. "This is what they get", he said. Well the government itself has shopped abroad and continues to do so - in outsourcing cervical smear screening to the USA as the cheapest bidder. So whats good enough for them is too good for us? Outsourcing those tests cost jobs and earnings to this economy, not to mention loss of expertise - a whole industry really but they're not smacking themselves on the knuckles for their own temerity is this little endevour. A case of do what I say, not what I do.
The budget, has, as I feared it would, been and unbalanced one. It has focussed more on taking money rather than saving on inefficiencies. It cannot be right that there are around 47,000 admin and management staff in the HSE to just 62,000 frontline staff! Everyone, from the President down, needs to take a pay cut. But costs need to go down too. The Minister talks about us taking a drop in our living standards, but most prices are not actually going down despite some fancy statistics. The Doctor still costs the same. The dentist still costs the same. The mortgage might be going down a little but your income is down by more.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: there should be a General Election. Right, they've brought in the budget now and that's it for the year. So they should do the decent thing and go and seek a mandate for this new era and the type of policies that are required to deal with it. I still believe that they ran the last election on false promises but that's neither here nor there anymore.
Too much has changed and too much is being lost. People have the right to have these policies debated wholly and in the open and they have the right to make their choices based on all this new information.
Go to the Country Fianna Fáil. If you have the courage of your convictions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fianna Fáil Candidates Desperate

I don't know how anyone has the nerve to knock on doors in Waterford as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the upcoming elections.

After the disgraceful demise of our flagship industry Waterford Crystal (while rescuing the private banking industry); After the St. Patricks Hospital debacle (Anna Manahan had it right when she told people to 'have a bucket of water' ready for them!); After our A&E Unit remains the most miserly in the Country; After trying to take medical cards from Old Age Pensioners; After robbing schools of teachers and investment; After ignoring our University application for 3 years and 2 months (so far); After pulling the Gateway Innovation Fund - the only meaningful piece of the National Spatial Strategy; After surfing the decentralisation wave for years only to drop it when even the dogs on the street knew it had been conceived on the back of a brown envelope.

After letting people die, in dirty corridors, while contracting life-threatening diseases in our hospitals; After running the economy for the benefit of their friends in the building community; After running amock with false taxes which they knew would leave us up to our necks in it; After lying their way through the last election.

After further delays in public radiotherapy at WRH (not now due until 2015 at least); After failing to transfer back-up services to WRH as a Centre of Excellence in Breast Cancer; After haemmoraging 1,000 jobs every week; After record unemployment. The list goes on and on and on.

I have noted as I'm sure have many people, the increasingly desperate claims from wanna-be Fianna Fáil Councillors trying to

(a) disassociate themselves from their own partys' policies,
(b) piggy-back with their one-dimensional arguements on issues already in the public domain as if they were the first to ever think of them and,
(c) claim that they are the 'new, fresh faces' for Waterford.

I beg to differ with them on each and all of the above.

As I learned in my 10 year political sojourn to date, if you stand for a party, you are, by extension, standing for their policies. All of their policies. The policies that have farmed out the running of our tragic, disimproving health service to an unaccountable body, answerable to no-one and prepared to continue to hire €200,000+ per year top level administrators while cutting front line services for the elderly in St. Patricks Hospital; while starving WRH of investment while spreading that investment - against HSE policy all over the Region; while moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic and losing eminent Doctors to other locations because they couldn't get their act together here in Waterford.

I was elected for Fianna Fáil 10 years ago and served four years in that party before I resigned in dissappointment and disgust at their treatment of the people of Waterford due to their failure to deliver on their 2002 (9 years ago!!) election promise of public radiotherapy for our cancer patients in Waterford and the South East. I understood that by being a Fianna Fáil Councillor I was giving my implicit support and acceptance of that stand. I refused. If my party had the kind of policies that I could not stand over, then I would not stand for them and so I resigned.

How can the current batch of Fianna Fáil candidates stand over the disgraceful inaction on designating WIT as a University of the South East and thereby denying us our rightful equality and access to a University eduction. The South East is suffering. The South East cannot compete on a level playing pitch. Take any measure you like and you can see it. It is sickening.

If the current batch are as much against their own partys' policies in Government - as they have publicly stated on many issues - then they should not be propagating those policies. They cannot have it both ways. They are either in, and everything that that means, or they are out. You cannot play basketball for one team and duck off to play with the other team every time it suits. That is both dishonest and dishonourable and hopefully, fools no-one.

I know, that there is a core Fianna Fáil vote and that many people will vote for that party regardless of how good, bad or indifferent the candidates are or are not. Regardless of the policies pursued by this government and how they have ignored Waterford - other than for what was in the National Development Plan. They will vote no matter how badly they are running the show, or how many people they hurt or dissappoint. No matter how out of touch they are with how most of us are living - despite their cute statistics which tell us things that our purses and pockets tell us just aren't so.

Would Fianna Fáil please run their own positive campaign, telling us what thay have to offer us, rather than what we are doing wrong (while operating under their rules and strictures, with their priorities and lack of investment). Tell us what they are doing for our hospital. Tell us when they are going to give us our University. Tell us how they will fix the mess they have made. Tell me why I should 'take the pain' for the misery inflicted by them. Tell us why elderly people need to pay for their care in nursing homes while prisoners and rapists and murderers are catered for free.

Tell us why young thugs can freely terrorise communities while the Gárdaí are helpless to stop them. Tell us why people with 30, 40, 50 convictions are still free to rob and maim and ruin peoples' lives. Tell us why child-molestors can live freely in our streets. Tell us why convicted rapists don't automatically go to jail for 15 or so years. Tell us why 'life' doesn't mean 'life'.

Tell us why we get sicker in our hospitals. Tell us why a new geriatric hospital is not built in St. Patricks before the patient numbers are reduced. Tell us. Please, tell us.

Tell us why, on a local level, if they have all the solutions, that they haven't already implemented them seeing as how they are in government.

I'm so annoyed by their arrogance and sheer ignorance in their cherry-picking issues and 'fresh faced' solutions. Please. I don't think there's one of the candidates in my ward has come up with a single new or innovative idea - not that I have seen or heard anyway.

The bottom line is, if you want to run as an Independent, run as an Independent. If you're running for Fianna Fáil, then you take the rough with the smooth. You stand for what they stand for and you must take responsibility for their delivery or lack of delivery for Waterford. No double standards.

In the face of monumental mis-management of Ireland plc., serious lack of investment in Waterford and in ALL of our services, I sincerely hope the electorate turn out in numbers in June to let them know whether they think the Fianna Fáil party has been delivering for Waterford.

Which leads me to another point: USE YOUR VOTE. If people do not come out and use their hard-fought for democratic vote, then they can not complain if the message doesn't get through.

There's only one place to hurt political parties - and that's in the ballot box!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Axe about to Fall

It feels almost as though we are all waiting for an axe fall on us. Everyone you speak to is feeling the pinch. Even though, some are no less well off than they were and even though they tell us the price of things are coming down. (Personally I don't see it. Especially as I've just paid a WHOPPING gas bill!)

As a non-economist I have to confess that I am totally confused. There are so many contradicting opinions out there as to whether we should flog the rich, fleece the poor, make the workers pay or decimate public services. All bad things.

Everybody seems wedded to their own particular ideology - depending almost entirely on their own point of view - and perhaps what they think might hurt them the least although that is certainly not how they sell it.

All of the above have pain for all of us in one way or another. Every pebble thrown ripples out to affect the whole pond.

I am a great believer in making your own path rather than following one. And I suspect that the answer lies not in any particular ideology, but rather - in all of them. I hope the Government is in listening mode, not something they are renowned for, because there are some good ideas out there.

We cannot hope to get out of this by taxing people excessively. That will only ensure they hold on ever tighter to their money - meaning there will be less spending and so less taxes and so less to pay for services etc. etc. etc.

There is an old fable about the wind and the frost and the sun each trying to prove they were the strongest. They decided that whoever could get the coat from a man would be the winner. So the wind blew as hard as he could. But the harder he blew, the tighter the man held his coat. Same for the frost. The colder he made it, the more the man pulled his coat around him. But the sun just shined and the more he shined, the looser the man held his coat until eventually, forgetting about the cold an the frost he dropped it altogether.

Sometimes it's not the harsh, painful route that gets you what you want. Sometimes it's the less obvious path. Give a man a job and he pays taxes. Take his wage (by whatever means, be that too much in taxes, levies, charges, prices) and he becomes a burden.

I personally think what we need, is to stimulate employment as the number one issue. It's the only route whereby we can all help in getting ourselves out of this mess. That's why I think it's so important for the Government to do everything they can to protect whatever jobs we have (which they're not doing) and to support in a very visible 'on the ground and non 'high-faluting' way, the creation of new jobs. Irish jobs. Indigenous jobs which won't be migrating to Lithuania or Indonesia at the drop of a cent in profits ar the smell of a cent saved on workers.

The rules have changed and we should change with them. We should have held the Waterford Crsytal brand. That had the potential to deliver for Ireland plc. (See earlier blogs on this issue.)

We should celebrate entrepeneurship - and not be looking for Saints. People are human and I often wonder just how perfect the journalists writing some stories are and how, if we turned a bright light into their lives, they might look in that cold light? Not any better than those they are 'exposing' is my guess. Not any holier or less greedy. I detest witch-hunts of the type that greeted the newly appointed and now resigned Chairman of the Dublin Port Company who did absolutley nothing illegal. Although he was greedy, he never purported to be a Saint as far as I know. And there are no greedy journalists?

It's high time we stopped tearing down people and things as a kind of national sport with our holier than thou attitude. We are not better than anybody else; but nobody is better than us either. We need intelligent minds who can - and have proven that they can - unstick us from this economic molasses. At this rate, Jesus Christ himself wouldn't touch an invitation to serve in the cause of the Irish economy because God only knows what they'd end up printing about Him!

We need to cop on because we have bigger fish to fry and we're all on the same side, aren't we? We all want us to succeed......don't we? If half of us are pushing the wheel up the hill and the other half are pushing it down, then we're never going anywhere. And those perfect journalists with no skeletons in their own cobwebbed cupboards are going there with us.

Picture shows my 1 (almost 2) year old, Carein, as her pretty self, to counteract the weird printing in the News & Star this week which made her look like something out of the Muntsers!!! LOL