Sunday, February 28, 2010

Should Politicians Change Their Minds?

I wasn't actually going to write anything on this issue - not wishing to give the oxygen of publicity to YFG and the personalised campaign they have waged against me over the past few weeks and the fact that I changed my mind on the 80kph speed limit for the Outer Ring Road.

Firstly, and perhaps most depressingly, I am so disappointed at the tack that YFG has taken in how they have dealt with this issue - aping as it does the tired old, same old, failed old tactics of previous generations of Irish politicians. In fact it is one of the reasons which makes me rejoice that I am no longer part of a political party and no longer forced, sheep like, to follow the same well trodden paths already taken by so many un-worthies already. It is infinitely depressing that 'Young' Fine Gael have nothing new to add to the lexicon.

However, back to the issue. You would be forgiven for thinking that YFG had discovered the fourth secret of Fatima, they're that delighted with themselves. So what happened: I signed a YFG petition about 18 months ago supporting the raising of the speed limit on the Outer Ring Road to 80kph from its originally set speed of 60kph. They claim that this is somehow a private stance (????) at odds with my now public stance that the speed limit should remain at 60kph.

Now I will admit that the Outer Ring Road is a great new road - and any driver, not knowing the speed limit might be forgiven for assuming that it should be at least 80 if not 100kph. I am no different and prior to looking at the issue in more detail that would certainly have been my opinion. (Hence my signing the petition.)

So what happened? Am I some political deviant misleading the public as to my actual stance? Am I guilty of some dastardly skeletons-in-the-closet type political scandal? Quite simply I would contend: NO. So what happened then? I changed my mind - a move for which I make absolutely no apology.

The crux of the issue is perhaps, why did I change my mind? Was is to annoy YFG? No. (But that is a bonus!) Was it to ingratiate myself with the voters? No. Most people I speak to think that the speed should be increased to 80kph. Was it so that I could be accused of flip-flopping? No. This is generally seen as a weakness in politics (one which YFG, for example, are now seeking to exploit). So why then? Simply this. Information. I learned, in examining this issue that raising the speed limit to 80kph is just not the right thing to do in the current circumstances.

So what are those circumstances? Well, I ask you this: if you learned that something you wanted to do would increase the danger to people walking; would not be doable unless and until a lot of money - which you don't have - was spent to fix certain problems; would leave your organisation and perhaps yourself open to legal action as a consequence and that finally all the expert opinion was against your proposal; would you persist? Would you increase the danger? Would you risk yourself and/or the tax-payer being sued? Would you commit the money? Would you call the experts liars?

I would call that fool-hardy and irresponsible. But YFG seem to be advocating that despite all this, we should go ahead and change the speed limits - merely so that they as a political grouping can be seen to have rail-roaded through their proposal.

I for one say no. No to the speed increase unless and until the issues which have been identified are dealt with. No to YFG and their insistence that I stick by an opinion regardless of what I have learned and No to their tactic of trying to personally attack me for my stance(s) on this.

Furthermore, if and when the paths are separated from the roadway and some work is done on sight-lines in areas, I will, perhaps, consider something that is likely to enrage YFG even further - I may change my mind again!

The sooner the political parties young and old learn to change their minds as they learn more, the better I say. Perhaps that might stop us only half way down some of the blind alleyways we've been led down over the years by our politicl masters. It looks like FG will form some part of whatever our next Government in this Country will be - lets hope they will bring something new to the pot. On the evidence I am, sadly, not optimistic.

Finally I would ask Young Fine Gael one question: will they look in the eyes of any family who may suffer an injury or bereavement on the Outer Ring Road as a result of any speed limit increase and tell them that it was the right decision?

I will change my mind one hundred times rather than stick to a wrong decision - especially on an issue where lives, quite literally, are at stake. That surely, is the criteria and nothing else. When I change my mind because of something I have learned, I congratulate - not chastise - myself.

I hope I keep on learning for the rest of my life. I look forward to many more changes of mind! And furthermore I refuse to be bullied or cowed into submission by YFG - or anyone else. That, to me, is a political principle worth standing up for.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Young People Need Work Experience

I was speaking to a friend of mine yesterday and she told me about her son - who is a fully qualified engineer who cannot get a job. Nothing new here: it's unfortunately a far too common story these days. Then she told me that he was going to a new city to 'work for free' for a company so that at least he could get work experience. Now fair play to the guy and it's great that a company is prepared to give him this experience in a situation where it probably goes without saying that they can't afford to employ him (or anyone).

Now the problems of finding a job when you are unemployed are tough enough - but if you haven't even got any work experience then you're probably at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to handing out even the few jobs that are there. It's past time when the Government need to look at this issue specifically and perhaps come up with a way whereby companies could be incentivised to take on young people to give them some work experience - even if it is for no wage.

Now I know this is fraught with complications and could be abused and lots of other problems. But if this young man is prepared to go to the (extreme some would say) measure of working for nothing I am quite sure there are other young people who would be willing to do this too - for a limited time - in order to be able to get some work experience to put on their curriculum vitae. It's not ideal to be sure. But these are extraordinary times and maybe extraordinary measures are called for?

Of course another incentive would be eliminate what are essentially taxes on employing people - namely employers PRSI - which means that the more people you employ, the more money you pay the government for that privilege. That has to be crazy in this climate.

I find it difficult to understand why the government has not put an emergency jobs task force in place to identify measures we could take in tackling unemployment. There are obviously lots of different challenges out there for all the different groups. In the current circumstances I can't believe that it is no-ones job to be looking at this specific area and making recommendations which the Government would undertake as a matter of urgency.

Are FF, FG, Lab, Greens and the rest of them just too busy carving out notches on their respective belts recording the amount of damage they do to each other while the country, meanwhile goes to rack and ruin? Do they think that that impresses us or that we even care? I really detest party politics! They could all flog each other to death for all I care - I just wish they wouldn't do it on our time or in our name. I wish they would get on with the job that they claim they were elected to do and start tackling the real issues with some lateral thinking and some 'lets get off our asses and deal with this' attitude.

Maybe they are just trying to distract us from the fact that they don't have any ideas or don't know where to start when it comes to getting - or at least trying to get us - out of this creek that we've been landed in?

Enough with the distractions. Please - some ideas on the jobs front. Incentives; removal of barriers; new schemes, removal of blockages and anomalies in the system. A can do approach. Some urgency. Lives are being ruined here. Families split again - perhaps for life. Can't you at least try.

Monday, February 15, 2010

500 Days to go to Tallships Festival

From today there are exactly 500 days to go until the magnificent Tallships Festival returns to Waterford in June 2011 and those beautiful ships will grace our Quays once more. The website is now up and running at

There's a countdown timer there and the fact that the Christian Radich is the first Tallship already confirmed to attend at the festival.

The city that the festival will return to should be a different one that it attended in 2005 when they first visited here. The new Waterford Crystal factory and showrooms will be up and running on the Mall and a number of other developments with museums, Viking ships and other fantastic elements should all be in place.

The fact that the festival will fall on a weekend next year should also ensure even more visitors than the 500,000 people who came to Waterford for the event last time and I know that Des Whelan and his team are already working flat out to make the next festival even bigger and better than that magical one in 2005 - no small feat!

One thing we have as a city - which is a wonderful thing in these really really difficult times - is that we have so much to look forward to. We have to hope that all of these things will serve as a catalyst for lots more tourism development and as a result, job creation.

We are out there, doing it for ourselves. Can you do anything to help?

NEW A&E for WRH on the way at last?

Came across this press release on the HSE website - the A&E expansion at Waterford Regional Hospital has been approved and will go to re-tendering. .

However 're-tendereing' is probably the key word in the release and I sincerely hope that the development of the A&E at WRH will go ahead THIS time - unlike previous times.

So while I welcome the announcement - I am not yet holding my breath.

Monday, February 8, 2010

In Light of George Lee's Resignation

In light of George Lee's resignation today I reprint an article I wrote last May asking 'Is Politics Broken'. I think Georges' experience gives a truth to what I thought then.

Politics is broken. I'm not talking about the tinkering around the edges, the numbers, the parties or even the corruption.

I'm talking about the seeming inability of elected politicians to be able to simply effect any change. That, after all is - or should be - why anyone goes into politics. I know there are some who go in for other reasons. Perhaps just because they can - maybe daddy passes them on a seat. Perhaps they like being in the spotlight. Perhaps they want to keep their party in power.

But most people I know go into politics because they believe they can make a difference. Make changes. And I don't think that's possible. Not where it matters anyway and thats in Dáil Éireann.

When TD's are running for election, they promise the world - and I guess maybe you have to on some level. But it must be the most frustrating thing to be a TD; to have promised the world; to believe in change; to want to deliver for your community.....only to be faced with a system that absolutely doesn't allow it. Not for the Opposition TDs. Not for back-benchers. Probably not even to any great extent for Ministers.

There is no way for TD's to individually make their mark, move their ideas or initiate any meaningful changes. Whether the party system has stifled it or it was ever there in the first place I don't know but it is broken and it needs fixing.

People need to have confidence that the TDs and the system that we are working under can reflect the changes that we as a society want. At the moment, the Dáil is an irrelevance - a circus sideshow not worth the time it takes to sit in the chamber (obvioused by the fact that so few bother to do so anyway).

It must be soul-destroying being so powerless in the most powerful - in theory - position in the land. No wonder TD's spend their time hoovering up local authority type requests - because they're the only thing they can actually deliver on - even though they've left the local authorities behind. It's why they run clinics. Because although they have a mandate to operate at national level - where are the mechanisms? Where can TD's initiate legislation or have it debated? Where can a single TD really engage with the public?

A real hard look needs to be taken at how the Dáil operates. It needs to become more relevant and flexible. It needs to give power to the people to whom the electorate have given power - the TD's and not just the 15 or so at the cabinet table. If TD's were actually able to make meaningful changes at national level I would hazard a guess that it wouldn't be long before they started getting their teeth into it (at least the ones who are in it to deliver change) and working on those national issues. I mean who would want to keep sorting out pot-holes when you can deliver on the big issues?

At local level, all elected Councillors - notwithstanding the odd inter-party clash - tend to work together on issues to deliver important things for their City or County or town. Why can not the Dáil or indeed the European Union operate like this? Why do Irish MEPs split up into different groupings in the EU and work against each other? Why are they not all on the same side? Why can TD's not initiate legislation on a cross party basis or even individually. Why can the Dáil not do 'what it says on the tin'? In extra-ordinary times, extra-ordinary measures are called for and choosing to go on in the same old way that we always have done is simply not good enough any more.

TD's need to work in a stimulating environment that is conducive to them being able to simply effect real change. Unless and until that happens, people will continue to be cynical and bored and disdainful of politics and politicians. And politicians will continue to be bored and un-inspired themselves.

Something needs to change and I would argue that it should be changed from within now, before its too late. TDs need to be allowed to work in the best interests of Ireland and the people who elect them and not merely serve as voting fodder in bewteen each election. They should all be required to deliver and the system should be changed to make sure that they do - and not the other way around as it seems to be at the moment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Seafaring Festival Launched Today

I was delighted to be at the launch of a fun sounding new festival for Waterford City this evening in the Theatre Royal. The Waterford Seafaring Festival of Music & Song, the brainchild of our local sea shanty group Hooks & Crookes (pitured above singing at the event today), will run from May 28th-30th next in venues all around the city.

It should be mighty craic. Check out their website on for more details.

Could this be yet another beginning of good things happening in Waterford? There seems to me to be an air of almost general optimism permeating the city at the moment. Could it be true or am I mad?