Welcome for EU Petitions Committee discussion on the Corrib gas project

June 28, 2007 at 9:50 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

I welcome the fact-finding visit of the EU Petitions Committee to Ireland. At a meeting with the Committee in Galway last night I discussed my petition on the Corrib Gas project (Petition 204/2007). I was delighted to receive firm assurances that the matter was being treated with urgency and that communication had already occurred on the issue between the Committee’s secretariat and the European Commission. It was emphasised that the Committee would have visited North Mayo but for logistical and time constraints. 

As an example of the extent to which the Corrib gas project is in breach of European law I raised the impossibility of an appropriate Environmental Impact Assessment having been carried out as required by the EU Directive. This is because the pipeline route for the project is, as yet, unknown. Therefore, the environmental effects of the pipeline, both in its own right, and as part of the total development, cannot be known even though other components of the project are proceeding. The pipeline route may be through bog or through water, each of which has a different impact. This is a clear instance of ‘project-splitting’ and has ensured, as a matter of simple logic, that no full environmental impact assessment of the Corrib gas development as a totality has been possible.  

I am satisfied following last night’s meeting that the Committee fully understands the gravity and urgency of these issues and I look forward to their ongoing involvement in the matter.  

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Crime – solutions not complaints

June 27, 2007 at 10:20 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

This is the third of the four important policy areas that I said I would address during the course of the Seanad campaign. Below on this blog you can find my proposals regarding democratic reform and health.

 There is a public perception that crime is rising and out of control. Much of the time when people speak about crime they have in mind anti-social behaviours of various kinds. In response to this, there is a very strong reflex reaction to demand more Gardai and more punishment for offenders. However, as with questions of health, we need to think about crime analytically and structurally so that we can understand it and devise appropriate and effective strategies to deal with it. As I have done in my other policy proposals, I wish to outline clear and immediate practical ideas. First, I should say that I too am a victim of crime. I was seriously assaulted in Dublin in 1988 in a random attack. However, I have lived and worked with homeless people in Dublin. There, I came into first-hand contact with Dublin’s drug- and alcohol-addicted population. I worked for a number of months in Mountjoy prison in 1987. I have managed a center for ‘at-risk’ young people in Carlow and worked with vulnerable young people in County Kerry. The proposals I make below are drawn from all of these experiences and from many conversations with those working directly in various types of social care. 

Why crime?

People must be individually responsible for their actions. But incidents of crime can also be directly correlated with social deprivation and inequality. Addressing crime means addressing equality and justice in our society.

  • We need interventions that not just offer opportunities at the level of individuals but also improved social infrastructure such as schools, sports facilities, social clubs and green spaces.
  • This in turn is linked to the need to create democratic structures at community level that can empower people to take charge of issues which directly effect them. Dedicated investment budgets under local control is one clear policy strategy. Private developers that are obliged to liaise with local communities prior to development occurring is another.

Education

Our schools must be centres for developing citizens and citizenship. Justice begins at school. Many problems become manifest at an early age and are in reality either health or social problems which become registered as crime problems later on. We need to break the inexorable transition by which many people with specific needs end up becoming a crime statistic.

  • We need early intervention programmes designed to identify and effectively treat health issues such as learning difficulties and behavioural difficulties.
  • We need close liaison between schools and social services in a structured manner.
  • We need close community involvement in schools with schools becoming community centres and places of lifelong learning where parents and guardians can engage.

Drugs

Drugs are at the heart of much of our crime phenomenon. We need a major, radical drug strategy beginning with education and extending into support for addicts.

  • We need a comprehensive network of drug treatment centres. The model here is the Merchant’s Quay project in Dublin.
  • We need a system where addicts can register and be treated as a health concern receiving comprehensive support and maintenance treatment.
  • We need a drug therapy programme available to all addicts but most particularly those convicted of crime.

Prisons

Many of our prisons are in effect holding-centers for criminals. Conditions for many prisoners are appalling. The punishment of being in prison is the deprivation of one’s liberty. No further punishment is required yet many of our prisoners suffer dreadful personal deprivation while incarcerated.

  •  We need major prison reform emphasising physical standards and educational and personal development activities. We should examine best-practice models such as those being developed in Denmark.
  • In addition to incarceration, we need therapy programmes for a range of offenders including those convicted of drug and sexual offences. 

Garda reform

The organisational model under which the Gardai operate needs serious overhauling.

  • We need a Patton-style Garda reform with a particular emphasis on community-Garda accountability and interaction.

Civil Liberties

In our haste to deal with perceived criminality we need to uphold our civil liberties and the rule of law. The law is there to protect the weak. Criminal law addresses all citizens not just those we regard as criminal.

·        The recent Criminal Justice Acts which have reduced the right to silence, imposed mandatory sentences and permitted greater telephone monitoring by the Gardai needs urgent reform in favour of the citizen.

Welcome for EU Petitions Committee Fact-finding Visit

June 26, 2007 at 3:28 pm | Posted in Statements | 3 Comments

I welcome the fact-finding visit of the EU Petitions Committee to Ireland. Ireland’s record of compliance with EU law, particularly in the area of the environment, has been particularly poor. It is to be hoped that the advent of the Green Party into government will greatly improve that situation. 

The Petitions Committee will hold a public meeting in Galway on Wednesday night. At that meeting I will raise my petition on the Corrib Gas issue and ask the committee to expedite a consideration of the concerns that I have raised regarding the compliance of the project to EU law. These include possible breaches of the Habitats Directive, The Seveso Directive, the Water Framework Directive and Directives in regard to public consultation. 

Not just Seanad reform needed but democratic reform.

June 25, 2007 at 9:42 am | Posted in Statements | 1 Comment

With the Seanad election underway at present there is a justified focus on its undemocratic and archaic character. However, the Seanad election is symptomatic of a deeper democratic deficit. Just walk around and talk to people in our expanding new housing estates or in the small communities of rural Ireland. People everywhere feel that they personally cannot participate meaningfully in the decisions which directly affect their lives. Whether that be regarding playgrounds, schools, healthcare, anti-social behaviour or farming practices, very many people feel alienated from the democratic process which is meant to serve them. Vested interests and those with influence and money seem to decide everything. Politics is experienced as a mildly amusing spectator sport populated by politicians who operate on the basis of personal favours and strokes rather than rights and accountability.

This needs to change. We need a radical democratic renewal. Let me outline some immediate practical proposals.

Local Government

  • Directly elected County and Town Mayors, serving fixed four-year terms and exercising most of the powers of the County and Town Managers.
  • Annual local budgets under the control of the elected Mayor.
  • Establishment of community and neighbourhood councils with direct liaison to the Mayor regarding budgets and local development plans.
  • Compulsory pre-planning requirements for developers of large projects to consult with local communities directly affected by their projects.

National Government

  • A standing Corruption Investigation Body with the power to investigate any allegation of corruption against an elected representative or public office holder.
  • A standing Oireachtas Petitions’ Committee to receive petitions from citizens on any possible breach of the law.
  • Dail reform to ensure that power is re-balanced towards the legislature rather than the executive. There needs to be more questions, more accountability and more capacity for legislation to be initiated by individual deputies. The Westminster model we have inherited needs to be reformed so that, for example, the executive can be defeated on proposed legislation without having to resign.
  • Major Seanad reform. A second house of the legislature is of value but its electorate needs radical expansion. Thus the number of nominating bodies should be expanded and updated, members of those bodies should be permitted to vote and all third-level graduates should be able to vote in the ‘third-level’ constituency.

I am deeply conscious of the irony of running in a constituency that is archaic and elitist. However, all I can do is take the constitutional situation as I find it and use the opportunity presented to make an argument as best as I can. That after all is at the core of politics – making arguments and seeking support. 

Health – solutions not complaints

June 21, 2007 at 10:27 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

This is the second policy proposal area that I have said I will address during the Seanad campaign. Over the last few weeks I have had many calls from people concerned about our health service. It is clear that a comprehensive, competent and caring health service is the measure of a civilised society. What we seem to be experiencing however are long waiting lists for treatment, slow access to needed services, over-crowded and dirty hospitals, highly stressed health workers and deficits in specialist services such as for those with disabilities.

 This must change. I have talked to patients, carers and health professionals. At present, I and a number of colleagues are doing a major study into disability services in Mayo. I teach nursing students in both general and psychiatric disciplines. Much of my professional work as a sociologist is in the area of health and illness. In addition, I am a carrier of the cystic fibrosis genetic defect and have lost two sisters to the disease. 

There are no easy solutions. However, the following are some practical ideas that we need to address. 

1 Why are we so ill?

We need to think about this so we can address the root causes of illness. Three key areas are poverty, lifestyle and environment. All of these are health issues.

  • Poverty causes illness – due to poor food, poor accommodation, increased stress.
  • Bad lifestyle causes illness – lack of exercise, long commuting, excess eating and alcohol intake.
  • Damaged environment causes illness – bad air quality, chemical contamination of food and houses, pollution.

To address our mounting level of illness we need systemic approaches to each of these interrelated areas. This means a political vision to create a society that is socially just and ecologically sustainable. 

2 Why do we need so many hospitals?

We need to re-orientate people away from hospitals. This is to free up hospital beds for those who do need them and to keep people away from the high-risk environment that hospitals now are. We need:

  • Community care strategies integrating homes, schools, workplaces and local clinics linked to GP services
  • Comprehensive health promotion and preventative health interventions
  • Local maternity services and mobile home birth support services
  • Comprehensive localised drug and alcohol treatment facilities
  • Support for independent living for those with physical and intellectual disabilities

 3 Why do we have a two-tier system?

Healthcare is a human right. It must never be a product that can be more easily accessed by those with higher incomes than others. We need:

  • A single, comprehensive State-run health system for all
  • For-profit medicine should not form part of our health service
  • Those with physical and intellectual disabilities have a right to receive appropriate services.

 There are many practical proposals that can be made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our health system. Good health is not simply a matter of repairing bits of us that have ceased to function. Good health is about a fair and just society, where all citizens can live with dignity and respect and where the environment is diverse and clean. Health therefore is a social project not simply a service or business.  

Gaeilge

June 20, 2007 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Gaeilge | Leave a comment

Fuair mé guthán ó roinnt dhaoine nach bhfuil sásta faoi easpa Gaeilge ar mo litriocht thoghcháin. Ta brón orm faoi sin ach tharla sé mar gheall ar easpa spás ar mo chárta agus chuir me béim ar dteachtaireacht soiléir in ionad ‘tokenism’ – ‘an chúpla focail’. Ni raibh sé ar intinn agam masla ar bith a thabhairt do éinne.

 Ta an-mheas agam ar Gaeilge agus go mór-mhór ar Gaeilge mar teanga phobail. Nuair a bhí mé i mo mhac-leinn i nGaillimh bhí morán Gaeilge agam. Bhi mé i mo bhaill den Chumainn Éigse agus Seanchais san Ollscoil. Ach anois, mar gheall ar easpa chleachtadh and deiseanna, níl mo chuid Gaeilge chomh mór ná mar a bhí. Chuaigh mo bheirt pháiste go Gaelscoil i gCáisleann a Bharraigh agus is cainteorí liofa iad. 

Creidim go bhfuil sé an-thabhactach go bhfuil Gaeltachtaí laidir agus beo againn. Is dualgas orainn Gaeilge a choiméad mar teanga phobail ar son saibhreas chultúrtha na tíre seo. Nuair a labhríonn mé faoi inbhuaine agus timpeallacht measaim go bhfuil Gaeilge mar gnáth teanga agus teanga phobail príomh-chuid den ábhaireacha sin.

Brief Biography

June 20, 2007 at 8:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

I am a native of Castlebar, Co Mayo. On my father’s side, I can trace my roots in Mayo back through many generations. A great-granduncle of mine was James Daly who was editor of the Cannaught Telegraph and one of the founders of the Land League in Mayo. Daly chaired the famous Irishtown meeting in 1879.

I am a graduate of UCG with a degree in Political Science and Legal Science in 1985. I completed a PhD in sociology in NUI Galway in 2004. I also studied philosophy for a year (1986-87) in Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology.

From 1987 to 1992 I worked as a care worker in Dublin, particularly with travellers and in Mountjoy prison. I was a volunteer full-time worker with Dublin Simon community and lived in a community of homeless people on Sean MacDermott Street for thirteen months in 1988 and 1989. I was project leader for a new Simon residential unit on Island Street from 1989 to 1992 and was deputy project leader of the Simon Night Shelter on Usher’s Island. That was challenging work and I trace nearly all that I have learned and the character that I am to those experiences.

Later I worked as a child-care worker in Tullow, Co. Carlow and in Tralee, Co. Kerry. In Tullow, I was a project leader on a project where four young people from Dublin lived with my young family and me on a 12-acre farm. The concept was to provide the young people with respite care and training in personal responsibility.

I began teaching in the IT, Tralee from 1997 and returned to Castlebar in 1999 to teach in the GMIT. I lecture in social care on our degree programme in Applied Social Studies.

I was a researcher with the Environmental Change Institute, NUIG from 2000 to 2003. I am Chairperson of Mayo Citizens Information Service and am a Director of FEASTA and Mayo Intercultural Action.

From the summer of 2005 I was spokesperson for the Rossport Five and subsequently acted as spokesperson for the Shell to Sea campaign until early 2007. I have written widely on the issue of the Corrib gas project and also on wider issues of sustainability and democracy.

I edited a book called The Rossport Five: Our Story (2006) and am the author of Compassionate Activism: An Exploration of Integral Social Care.

The Greens in government must make a difference

June 15, 2007 at 11:58 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

The entry of the Green Party into government provides an opportunity to inject fresh thinking into the heart of government. I hope that that opportunity can be realized. It is important that environmental and sustainability questions are not seen as marginal matters. Instead, ecological and social sustainability must be recognized as key economic questions.

The ‘business as usual’ approach is simply no longer viable in the medium-term because of the need to confront peak oil and climate change. The rationale for a radical re-orientation of our economy is outlined in many recent reports such as that of Sir Nicholas Stern in the UK who makes it clear that ‘tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the long-term.’ 

In short, the move to sustainability offers the only way to sustain competitiveness, economic growth and quality of life. This objective must be placed at the centre of government policy. 

Finally, the appointment of Eamon Ryan as Minister of Energy and Natural Resources presents an ideal opportunity for a fresh and positive outlook to be taken to the Corrib gas conflict. This conflict has gone on for far too long and urgently requires political leadership to resolve it. I hope that Eamon Ryan, who is familiar with the detail of the issue and has a track record of involvement in it, will prioritise the Corrib Gas conflict for immediate attention.

  

The Democratic Deficit – offering Solutions

June 14, 2007 at 11:21 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

As I indicated last week, I would address four key issues facing our country and seek to propose practical solutions rather than simply outline further grievances. I will start with the democratic deficit.

There can be no doubt that there is a serious democratic deficit in the country. Just walk around and talk to people in our expanding new housing estates or in the small communities of rural Ireland. People everywhere feel that they personally cannot participate meaningfully in the decisions which directly affect their lives. Whether that be regarding playgrounds, schools, healthcare, anti-social behaviour or farming practices, very many people feel alienated from the democratic process which is meant to serve them. Vested interests and those with influence and money seem to decide everything. Politics is experienced as a mildly amusing spectator sport populated by politicians who operate on the basis of personal favours and strokes rather than rights and accountability.

This needs to change. We need a radical democratic renewal. Elsewhere on this blog I have analysed some of our deeper, structural democratic defects. Here, let me outline some immediate practical proposals.

Local Government

  • Directly elected County and Town Mayors, serving fixed four-year terms and exercising most of the powers of the County and Town Managers.
  • Annual local budgets under the control of the elected Mayor.
  • Establishment of community and neighbourhood councils with diect liaison to Mayor regarding budgets and local development plans.
  • Compulsory pre-planning requirements for developers of large projects to consult with local communities directly affected by their projects.

National Government

  • A standing Corruption Investigation Body with the power to investigate any allegation of corruption against an elected representative or public office holder.
  • A standing Oireachtas Petitions’ Committee to receive petitions from citizens on any possible breach of the law.
  • Dail reform to ensure that power is re-balanced towards the legislature rather than the executive. There needs to be more questions, more accountability and more capacity for legislation to be initiated by individual deputies. The Westminster model needs to be reformed so that, for example, the executive can be defeated on proposed legislation without having to resign.
  • Major Seanad reform. A second house of the legislature is of value but its electorate needs radical expansion. Thus the number of nominating bodies should be expanded and updated, members of those bodies should be permitted to vote and all third-level graduates should be able to vote in the ‘third-level’ constituency.

Finally, a word on myself. I am deeply conscious of the irony of running in a constituency that is archaic and elitist. However, all I can do is take the constitutional situation as I find it and use the opportunity presented to make an argument as best as I can. That after all is at the core of my idea of politics – making arguments and seeking support.

Recent Events

June 11, 2007 at 1:43 pm | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Just a note on some recent events I have been involved in. 

Public Relations Institute of Ireland.

On Tuesday, May 15th I took part in a panel discussion at the PRII Annual Conference. The theme was on the Shell to Sea campaign and was chaired by Matt Cooper. Other participants were Douglas Dalby, MD of Prangle, John Cooney, journalist and author, Kealan Flynn, head of iWrite, and Billy Murphy, Executive Chairman of Drury Communications.  

AFRI Famine Walk

On Saturday, May 26th, I was one of the leaders of Afri’s annual famine walk from Delphi to Louisburg. The other leaders were the musician John Hoban and two native Americans Gary and Jamie White Deer.

Media Moves Conference

On Friday, June 8th, I addressed the Media moves conference in Galway on insights from the Shell to Sea campaign. This was a conference on understanding, shaping and creating media for social change and was chaired by Lelia Doolin. 

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