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Friday, May 2, 2014

You’re oh up the poll!

Politics is all swings and roundabouts. 3 weeks out from polling it seems the election is only starting.  Initial polls suggested that the European election in Ireland South was all over. It would be a slam dunk job for FF, SF and FG as they would share out the seats. But if a week is a long time in politics, what difference does a day make?  A lot!

I’ve a lot of time for Phil Prendergast, she’s got a lot of strong selling points. In a local election where she is the only MEP who lives in the region, I find it easy to ask people to vote local for her so as to keep an MEP in the south east.  I recently listened to the SF candidate on local radio complain about how the east coast had done so well and that Cork and Kerry lagged behind. That was an unintended compliment to Labour on how Wexford has seen hospitals built, schools rolled out and a new garda station ready to go, not remind the bypasses of Enniscorthy and New Ross which get under way soon while the N11 through Wicklow is well under way.

Despite the gaffe of complaining on the east coast as to how well she thinks it’s doing, the daughter of the famous composer Séan Ó Riada seems set for victory while her leader languishes in custody.   Wexford seems to be at the kernel of the electoral battle. FG’s Simon Harris is seen as a greater Dublin candidate while I’ve seen Deirdre Clune’s battle bus and Séan Kelly’s van make separate forays into town as they slug it out for votes. 

Kelly is seen as attracting a south west/mid west vote while Clune is seen as targeting rural voters and Cork.  If Brian Crowley can attract a huge personal vote where will his transfers go? Clune can expect some as can Ní Riada while his running mate Kieran Hartley who campaigns against pylons has yet to electrify his campaign.

So there is a space for Phil Prendergast, nobody else running in the south east where there has not been an MEP since Avril Doyle retired.  I hope that the emphasis in the south east is on the need for local representation at EU level and not one of where Wexford is seen as a handy notch on the political belt of candidates that previously showed little interest in the place.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tales from the canvas 2014

Doesn’t seem like 5 years since I first used this title to get across the mood of a local election, but while times move on the local elections are always about personalities and local issues.  It’s not about changing a government it’s about how your community is run. 
Local elections are the food and drink of a local community, none more so than to a local paper.   Elections are often seen not just as a huge potential for extra advertising but also extra sales. While  candidates compete for votes, editors who have been quietly nursing their egos in tandem with the electoral cycle are also shaping up to do battle.  And to tell the truth these men of letters (not that they print too many from their readers) leave many a candidate in the halfpenny place.
The real stars of a low profile local elections campaign so far this year in Wexford have been without a doubt, the local papers, They have been following a clear strategy of ignoring many candidates press releases but simultaneously sending candidates rate cards for advertising.  It used to be the case that a local papers job was to report news  and views.  If you are a councillor you have at least some chance and a profile.  If you are not then tough! Of all the elections I’ve been involved in I’ve rarely seen so little coverage of the candidates.   Is it that if you want publicity for any issue, you can forget it?
 Regardless of whether a candidate has good news or bad news you can keep it for yourself unless you are going to pay for an ad. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times in the last 3 months I’ve read anything about a new candidate. My own colleague Bernie Mullen is a case in point. She works hard in Rosslare, has been knocking doors for months but you don’t read about her because somewhere between the reporters keyboards and the paper being set, she seems to disappear.

And it’s not as if there isn’t a shortage of publications. 2 local papers and one free sheet were the staple for many years. Let me declare an interest here, I write a column for one new free sheet “The Weisfjord Newspaper and Advertiser” which launched in December.  Last week 2 were launched; “The Chronicle” owned and managed by Ger Walsh formerly of a local paper and mysteriously on the same day “The Co Wexford Reporter” which looks remarkably like one of the local papers and which is, according to those in the know, a spoiler to undermine “The Chronicle”.  If you think that politicians are the only ones that fall out, think again. It seems us public representatives are only trotting behind the bruised egos in publishing.   As far as I know no new journalist has been taken on by any newspaper so presumably extra productivity or old pictures are delivering the “news”.  One wide of the mark headline already suggests the end of rail services to Wexford,  Not on my watch!

All great for the readers and the letter boxes of the town as election material competes with newspapers for the attention of the few in the town with an interest in current affairs. As one wag on the doorstep said to me; “My dog is having a field day as he waits by the letter box for the next paper for him to drop in for him to chew up”.   As a consequence I’m knocking doors and handing the election material into the voter’s hands.
There is of course the alternative of publishing online.  Is it any wonder that more and more people are going online to get their news first? It gives the reader the chance to find out what is really going on and to get behind the news and even the newspaper itself?  And there is the chance that you just might find out online what some of the candidates at the local election really think!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shattered & Disgusted

May you live in interesting times is a Chinese proverb.  No more appropriate for the week here has been, One TD sadly has passed away after a long illness long before her time, another resigned suddenly as a result of personal failings.  And ticking away in the background was the time bomb of scandal in the Garda Siochana.  First the issue was about penalty points being quashed, next it moved to GSOC and whether it was bugged and if so by who, next it became personalised when the Garda Commissioner used the term “disgusting” in relation to the garda whistleblowers to the PAC in Leinster House and now this, it seems calls to and out of some garda stations have been recorded and an inquiry set up to determine the facts of this revelation.

There has been no crisis like this one. Because on the face of it there is a failing in management or as we like to call it a “systems failure” but at the back of it all since Leo Varadkar’s intervention calling for the Commisioner to withdraw his comment there seems to me that all is not well elsewhere in government.  I sense the ground moving on this one and as to where it will go politically its anyone’s guess.

It has certainly strengthened Varadkar’s hand in Fine Gael. He will at least avoid being sent to the Department of Health in the next reshuffle. Before he entered government with Labour I will admit I was suspicious of him expecting him to create trouble as he had little experience in working with Labour. I was wrong about him, the more experienced FG ministers seem to have been at the source of problems for Labour, James Reilly, Phil Hogan and now Alan Shatter.

An inquiry needs to indentify who permitted the recording of calls, why it was introduced, who was bugged and whether they have been advised.  Arising from that, what will be the implication of this? Will trials already in progress be halted and will people be denied justice and accountability? That is the real and only issue at stake here.  

All Irish political drama’s centre around the politics and not accountability. This cannot be allowed to continue for the sake of confidence in the Garda Siochana and the people it serves.  
Eventually public interest will be assuaged by a resignation, perhaps the Taoiseach moving to Europe and regime change. I find the cycle of scandal reminiscent of the era that ended the first Mayo born Taoiseach’s reign. Is history about to repeat itself?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Council is dead, long live the council!

So there’s just 80 days left to polling in the local elections.  The legislation to abolish local urban government is gone through the house, signed and by the President and now law.  I don’t think that it will be challenged, the legal advice to councillors is that at best its 50/50 and would not be head before an election anyhow. So urban councils are into their last few months, I regret this but I’m a realist, little can be done unless the Minister has a change of mind. In truth it won’t happen, not with this Minister. I am sorry our council is going. I think that it will damage Labour in areas like Connacht where off a small vote a labour councillor might get a seat on in a town but cannot expect one in a county council. We’re a national party that everyone in the state must have the option of supporting. Instead we’ll see more councillors from the same old, same old political backwoods.
But what does this really mean in Wexford? In my view a whole lot. Wexford will have a Municpal Borough and District council but let’s not take the eye off the ball. The cheque book moves over to the County Council.  Wexford Town’s development will now need the nod from the County Council. And here’s the rub! Wexford Town will elect just 5, maybe 6 councillors out of 34 county councillors.  Previously where different parties might have differed in Wexford Borough Council on national issues, they united on local issues that affected the town. Under the new arrangement Wexford may well get an unpleasant surprise. Councillors from other districts, indeed even resident within the district but who get votes outside of the town may have a very different view of what the town deserves.
In reality nobody asked for austerity in the last 5 years. Was there an alternative in government? Yes there was! I remember the cliché of heavy lifting in 2009/2010 when FF and FG wanted to front load the pain and cuts.  FF did make sweeping cuts that they now tend to forget. In the end the compromise government formed 3 years ago agreed how to proceed to get the Troika out. So now they’re gone , we’ve moved on.
So let’s move on even further. What have any of the parties got to say about what Wexford needs to go forward? It sounds very seductive to lend an ear to how hard the cuts have bitten. But does this make someone who opposes a government a good councillor? It’s easy to oppose but in any new council Wexford town’s councillors will have to stand together for Wexford. Jumping up and down to oppose  government will go down like a lead balloon with those that need a job, want a future or need a start. Its then the real politics will start

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

And So they're off!

Believe it or not there is slightly more than 100 days left to polling in the local elections.  You wouldn’t think it given the weather we have. Polling will be on Friday May 23rd. So at this stage you’d expect all the parties to have nominated and have their candidates up and run

Well , not quite so. Labour and Sinn Fein have nominated candidates in Wexford while the big two Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are evidently taking the scenic route to putting  a full team out on the pitch.  Add to that the number of independents who are likely to be on the ballot paper. Some have dropped out already, others have yet to decide. I’ve always wondered what Independent really means? Is it someone only interested in serving their community, or disgruntled at what a former party might have done?

Clearly the electorate aren’t interested in political ego’s and hobby horses.  What strikes me from knocking doors is that people are happy to engage on local issues. They want representation in their council.  They also want vision and are fed up listening to negativity.  The electorate accepts that councillors have no input in government policy, as one woman said to me recently “No party is popular but at least we see our councillor”. However a councillor for a government party is in a better position to go and set out problems to a minister than an opposition councillor can be.

And there’s the rub. All politics is local but not all local politics is based on national issues. There are plenty of local issues in Wexford politics that have moved off the political agenda in the last 3 years. The future of Wexford’s General Hospital is secure since early in the governments term, it was secured by Brendan Howlin and its future was the key election issue in 2011.  The announcement by the government before Christmas of more SNA’s removes another area of concern in Wexford.  Extra jobs for Wexford at Eischtec, Wexford Creamery, as well as projects like the new school builds, garda station will at least stabilise the local economy at what has been a time of national crisis.

So what about the future? That is what an election is supposed to be about! Some people will have you think  they want a re-run of the 2011 General Election (often people who opposed re-running referenda, but let’s pass on that one!)  
How can it be different? It’s the manifesto that sets out what the party will do when elected.  I genuinely believe that a local election is more important than a national election. That’s because more people have the right to vote and the councillor is more accessible and their impact more immediate. So it should be about how Wexford can maintain its position as the primary town in the county and how this can continue given that it will lose its council. It’s time we woke up to this and moved past the petty predictable guff that passes for politics in Wexford town.  
So let’s spell out how you can significantly transform Wexford. Merge the 2  IT’s in Carlow and Waterford into a university and base a school of it in Wexford.  We know that if you have a university you can base industries around it.  Provide the basis for Rosslare Europort to compete as a major container port on the national stage and use all the transport infrastructure to open it out, road and rail. Balance that in rural areas with the restoration of the beet industry and you have a rejuvenated Wexford developing in a sustainable way that is better able to withstand a slump than the old model which was built primarily on speculation and construction. It was a model I always felt was unsustainable. We can build a better Wexford one that can last regardless of outside economic shocks.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Where your money went in 2013

At the start of each year I release details of my after tax earnings from local authority membership. I’ve done this since 2007 and will continue to do it in the public interest. I hope that it demystifies politics and what is often perceived to be a gravy train. After 10 years as a member of a local authority I can tell you  there is no gravy train in Wexford, there’s no fortune to be made.  I pay 42% tax on all allowances, USC and PRSI as does any councillor who is an ordinary worker and pays PAYE.  Everything that is lodged to my account is net of all deductions so figures declared above are what are paid to me.
There are a number of bodies that I am a member of where I have never made any application for expenses in 2013. These are the Board of YouthReach which had 3 meetings and The Audit Committee of Co Wexford VEC which held 2 meetings in 2013. This is because there is a requirement to be away from home for 3 hours or more before a claim can be lodged. In  the case of those meeting mentioned above that time limit wasn’t reached.
In total in 2013 I received  €5,552.84. This comprised of 3853.26 in relation to attending WBC meetings, 2 conferences one on Tourism and another on Drugs that I received a total of €909 and also a phone allowance of €160.  The total paid by the VEC/ETB was €630.58. The VEC/ETB payment is slightly up on the 2012 declaration and is due to meetings being held in Waterford as opposed to Wexford and the travel involved.
There is a difference between gross payments which are released to the media and net tax payments which those on PAYE receive. The media makes no distinction and doesn’t clarify this when they set out payments.    So that’s what I got.  It is in net terms the difference between having a senior post of responsibility at work and a lower post which I hold. I’ve always believed no matter how much it is that as its public money there is a need to account. So it’s your right to know.