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.