28 April, 2008

Dún Laoghaire Baths Meeting

30th April, Kingston Hotel in Dún Laoghaire at 8.30pm. Cllr. Gene Feighery and Coastwatch Ireland will give their views, and I'll be racing out from a Dáil vote in Leinster House to catch the second part of the meeting.

I'm hoping that we'll pass a motion along these lines:

"That development proposals be prepared for the Dun Laoghaire Baths site along the following lines:

* Provide a publicly owned swimming amenity fully accessible to the general public,
* Provide a new building of no more than 2/3 storeys, in total, containing an indoor heated 25m pool,
* Provide a small number of related amenity elements including, for example, a toddlers’ pool, sea-weed baths, gym and modest café/restaurant with viewing area,
* Provide other appropriate cultural facilities in keeping with character of the town of Dun Laoghaire
* Renovate and re-landscape the existing walk-ways and maritime gardens between the Baths and East Pier in an environmentally sustainable manner and without any interference with the existing coastline beyond that absolutely necessary for the protection of the leisure amenity,
And that the Manager prepare funding options for the proposal, and provide bimonthly updates to the Council on the issue."

Seems familiar? It's what the Green Party Councillors proposed at the County Council Meeting on 10th October 2005. Sadly on that occasion we were voted down. Who knows where this one will end up...

18 April, 2008

Oi, Rock This!

Ouch! Well it beats all the Cannon puns, almost...

The scene, Loreto Abbey Secondary School in Dalkey on a bitterly cold morning with a gale sweeping in from the north east, and waves crashing on the shore. Senator Larry Butler at the podium addressing a classroom full of transition year girls.

"Politics is not a sexy subject" he announces. It brought the house down. It's hard to be the guinea pigs, but there we were, Barry Andrews, Senator Eugene Regan, and Cllr. Dennis O'Callaghan, Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council trying to explain what we do and why we do it.

It's all part of the Oireachtas Education Pilot Project, and with our Houses of the Oireachtas Schools Resource Packs in hand we took it in turn to describe our work. The packs feature postcards, button badges and a pull-out spread reminiscent of 'Lost' featuring a group of bewildered citizens stranded on a beach. The text reads:

"You are shipwrecked on a desert island. You are the only people on the island and it's unlikely that you are going to be rescued for some time. Please think about what type of laws you will need to ensure that everyone gets on, that everyone is treated fairly and everyone is safe.
Law to ensure fairness; law to protect people's rights, Law to keep people safe; law about offending people.

Mercifully we didn't have to give our answers to the above. Referencing Lord of the Flies was not an option! Apparently John O'Donoghue TD the Ceann Comhairle is behind all this, and it doesn't stop there. The Annual Programme of Public Events has been revealed. Sunday 29th June is Oireachtas Open Day with a Target Group of Families, and from Monday 6th to Saturday 11th October we're having The Oireachtas Festival of Politics - Target Group - Broad Public. The literature states:

"The Family Day should utilise both internal and external facilities. Externally, a ‘wow factor’ attraction, such as a hot air balloon that would reference the original Merrion Square, recreational activities at Leinster House, is proposed. Internally, guided access to the floor of the Dáil Chamber provides that sense of rare access and thus, privilege."

Gift Grub, eat your heart out. And if that wasn't enough, here's the line-up for the Festival

"The programme will consist of events that connect the Houses of the Oireachtas and its Members to a broad range of issues and via these topics to an even broader public audience. Added to this will be an array of high profile commentators, former Members of the Oireachtas, international guests and media personalities, all of whom will be chosen on the basis that they will add popular appeal to this major exercise in promoting public interest in Irish politics."

In fairness, I think it's a great idea, and it follows from experience in other countries, but no doubt we'll have the pants slagged off of us.

Meanwhile back in Loreto one of the girls asked us for our funniest moments in public life. I gave a bit of a damp squib of an example from my first few months in the Dáil when I was in a flight of rhetoric denouncing Michael McDowell over the shortcomings of a Justice Bill when all of a sudden Deputy Jim O'Keefe turns around and stage whispers "wrong bill" which stopped me dead in my tracks. Barry Andrews gave a long and complex story about sending a budgie back to its owner that had flown into his office. He was having a busy day, and had to hail a taxi on Kildare Street and send the bird off in a box, unaccompanied back to a pet shop.

Senator Eugene Regan's story was the best. During last Summer's campaign he was feeling queasy after a long day's canvassing, and after being on the receiving end of a long rant at a doorstep he said to the constituent that if he didn't stop talking he would have to vomit. Needless to say the prospective voter kept talking and Eugen turned around and puked into the flower-bed. Eugene felt he got three sympathy number ones, but if anyone had the other side of the story, I'd love to hear it.

Eugene pointed out that the constituent was very pleasant, did not rant, and gratefully accepted a potted plant as a gift the next day. Apologies, Senator!

13 April, 2008

Convention 2008

Just back from Dundalk. That's Minister Trevor Sargent, Cllr. Ciaran O'Brian who replaced Deirdre de Burca on Wicklow County Council,Kealin Ireland, myself, Martin Hogan, Claire McKeever, and Cllr. Shane Fitzgerald from Leixlip Town Council. We're sitting just outside the Convention Hall this morning. I've never been able to catch the sunshine, and listen to Convention speeches before. Cheating slightly, a bit like listening to Mass outside the church.

I was pleased with my 'Twelve Steps to reduce your carbon footprint' workshop yesterday, and I've put up a new blog with the twelve steps and some embedded video here. It still has teething problems with uploads that I'll tidy up over the next few days, but I'd welcome your comments and suggestions on it.

Had a good chat with Mick Fealty this morning about the theory and the reality of an all-Ireland Green Party. It's clear that we need to become clearer about what we can learn from, and give to each other on both sides of the border.

Last night was fascinating. I've never seen Political Correspondents hightail it out of the Conference hall during a leader's speech before, but obviously once the Chinese delegation upped and left halfway through John Gormley's speech, they knew there was a story. Hopefully that won't distract from the rest of what we were saying over the last few days.

09 April, 2008

Kids in cars

Thanks for the observations on the brevity of my last blog entry. I did post it about 30 seconds after Bertie had given the date for the handover, so I was still in a state of shock.

The torch was formally handed over this morning, with the election of Brian Cowen as leader, with less scuffles than we've witnessed in London or Paris over the last few days, and he's on course to assume the mantle of Taoiseach on 7 May. It certainly takes the pressure off the Greens as we prepare for our annual Conference this weekend in Dundalk. I'm sure these first ten months of Government will seem like ancient history in a few years time.

I 'm warming to Cowen. It looks like what you see is what you get, and he doesn't appear to suffer fools gladly.

Meanwhile, billboard ads for Transport 21 have appeared. The small print states 'a better quality of life, better business and a better future for everyone.' But wait a second. I've a letter on my desk from Noel Dempsey dated 19 March asking me to make a submission on the sustainable travel initiative. 'At the moment the trends are unsustainable and, even after the massive investment in Transport 21, urban congestion could be worse and greenhouse emissions from transport much higher in 2020 than they are today.' Noel's words, not mine

Surely some mistake. I don't think it quite sends out the right message to have kids driving toy cars, but that's only a sidebar to the very real dilemma that faces both the Green Party and Noel Dempsey. There's a lull in public transport capital investment at the moment but a lot of substantial projects will kick in, particularly in Dublin over the next few years. However the National Roads Authority is well placed to spend money fast on roads. The creation of a Dublin Transportation Authority will improve the links between transport and land-use planning over the next few years, but rather than business as usual, maybe what we need is a National Transport Authority to ensure that rail and bus projects get fast-tracked to completion.

I'm pleased that the Programme for Government states that 'Multi-criteria analysis of all transport projects will take into account environmental factors on a whole project basis', but I believe we've got to tilt the funding balance much further towards public transport if we're to deliver sustainable transport over the next few years, and that requires institutional reform, as well as funding

Submissions on the Sustainable Travel Consultation Document can be made here, by Friday 18 April.

01 April, 2008

Wanted for Carbon Crimes

Couldn't resist it.

I know I should be dedicating myself to the weighty matters of State that will be playing out in the Oireachtas tomorrow, but when I saw this piece in today's Irish Daily Mail, I had to comment on it. I'm conscious of the day that's in it, but given that a similar piece appeared in the Irish Times yesterday (Subscription required), I'm assuming that there's more than a grain of truth in it.

The UK budget airline Flybe.com is loading up planes with models and temp workers for a return flight from Norwich to Dublin in order to fill a contractual obligation set by Norwich Airport. The contract specifies a minimum for the passenger numbers each year. The terms of the deal state the airport will impose a €352,000 penalty if Flybe did not carry 15,000 passengers on the Norwich to Dublin route during the 2007-2008 financial year.

My advice is to cut and paste the email addresses below and send a clear message along the lines of what I've written to both the airline and the airport saying that this will not exactly endear you to giving them your custom.

Here's what I sent...

"Dear Madam / Sir,
Just a quick note to say I'm dissapointed at your actions that encourage the filling of flights with people in order to fill a contractual arrangement. This must be one of the worst carbon crimes. I'll be suggesting to anyone I know that flies via Norwich or that uses Flybe to move to another airline and airport.
Best regards,
Ciarán Cuffe TD"

And here's the email addresses...

pressoffice@flybe.com, corporate@flybe.com, businessexpress@flybe.com, Customeraccounts@flybe.com, groups@flybe.com, internetsupport@flybe.com, Rewards4all@flybe.com, enquiries@travelnorwichairport.co.uk, enquiries@