23 March, 2010

And they just got busier

Tired, emotional, and over the moon.

That's myself and Mary White at the front of Leinster House earlier this evening. We've both just become Ministers for State. Mary will have responsibilities in the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, and I'll be continuing the work that Trevor Sargent has been doing in the Department of Agriculture relating to food policy and horticulture, as well as taking on the Smarter Travel Plan and responsibilities in Environment, Heritage and Local Government in planning, architecture and climate change. No pressure, as they say!

It is a huge honour, and one heck of a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it. Our annual Convention kicks off in Waterford on Friday night, and on Monday I'm hoping to be on the first
scheduled train on the restored Western Rail Line between Galway and Limerick.

The job description consists of joining the dots in sustainability in the way we plan, the way we farm and the way we travel. As we cope with the the huge financial and employment challenges in Ireland it is easy to forget about the need to tackle climate change, peak oil and energy security. Hopefully my new role will allow me address these issues in some small way in each Department. I'm sad to be leaving behind the work I was doing, particularly in Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but I'm pleased to hand over the work to Mary White who is more than capable. She will be kept busy with the Civil Partnership Bill in Committee later this month, and lots more besides.

Everyone I met after the announcement has been full of helpful advice, from Enda Kenny to Donie Cassidy. I guess I'll sleep on it all, and see if I can find myself a new office in the morning.

22 March, 2010

Busy times

World Water Day today, and thanks to an invitation from Sarah Franklyn from the Water for Life! Ireland Campaign I found myself outside Leinster House with children from Scoil Cholmcille in Ballybrack, women from various African countries and the Lord Mayor Emer Costello.

I had a great chat with Ifrah Ahmed, a Somalian women living in Ireland Ironically enough the heavens opened as we posed for the pix, but all for a good cause.

There's a lot going on around Dún Laoghaire at the moment, and lively enough on the national stage as well. Dún Laoghaire Enterprise Week kicked off today in the Royal Marine Hotel, and Nicola Byrne founder of 11890 Directory Enquiries gave an upbeat speech. She's banning the use of the R word and wants us to refer to this period as the 'pre-boom'. I'm not sure about that though, I think we've seen how booms can go wrong, and I'd prefer a 'fáda' shaped smoother tranjectory out of our current difficulties.

Owen Keegan the County Manager was at the launch of County Enterprise Week, and I caught up with him a few weeks ago where he outlined a few of the positive developments that are happening the town of Dún Laoghaire. Here's an overview:

The Metals Upgrade
The covering over of the Dart line at the Pavilion complex has resulted in a great civic space where people can sit and enjoy views of the Harbour. The next phase begins this month and will see new café terraces, pathways, seating areas and a new small play space installed. There will also be new lighting, umbrellas and an information kiosk, as well as trees planted in the area.

Under the government’s Smarter Travel Fund, the 3.5km Metals pathway will be upgraded by the end of the year. The work will involve upgrading the road crossings that intersect with the path to make them safer, with better facilities for those with mobility and visual impairments. New directional signs and informational panels illustrating the history of the Metals will also be installed. These works will make this valuable resource better and safer for pedestrians and cyclists alike.
You’ll find further information on these projects and how to make a submission here:

Laneways Taken In Charge
For too long, Dún Laoghaire’s laneways have been in a bad state. Now, the Council is taking control of the lanes between George’s St, Northumberland Ave, Cross Ave and Patrick St. The paving, street lighting, landscaping and traffic management will all be improved. The Council wants your input into this process. More information here:

Marine Road Improvements
The Council intends widening the foot-paths, narrowing the carriageway and planting trees so as to provide a ‘boulevard’ appearance to the street. This will make the area more attractive for residents and visitors alike

Dún Laoghaire Harbour
On March 15th we will see the return of the Ferry Service to Dún Laoghaire Harbour after the winter break using a smaller Express vessel, and the HSS during July and August.
The old ferry terminal on the Carlisle Pier has been demolished. However I have asked Bord Pleanála to decide whether or not the Harbour Company illegally demolished the old nineteenth century railway building, and if so I will pursue the restoration of this part of the town’s heritage.

Pedestrian Improvements beside the DART Station
Proposals are afoot to relocate the ‘Gateway’ Sculpture, previously located at the Pavilion, to a new spot outside the Dún Laoghaire Dart station. The Council are constructing a new traffic island and pedestrian crossing at this location, which will hugely improve access to the station. The Council will seek submissions on these proposals shortly. Judging from the feedback I'm getting though, it seems like half the town would rather see Michael Warren's gateway sculpture recycled, so we'll see how this consultation goes.

Anyway, that's the view from Dún Laoghaire. Meanwhile I'm hosting a special screening of "The End of the Line" (short clip and website here) in the Oireachtas Audio-Visual room at lunchtime on Thursday 25th March 2010. It addresses how overfishing is changing the world and what we eat. It's based on Charles Clover's excellent book of the same name, and if you know of anyone with an interest in sustainable fisheries drop me a line, and I'll try and arrange for them to attend. Thanks to Mike Walker at Pew Environment for making this happen. Mike will say a few words and we'll also have a speaker from the Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd, so it'll make for an interesting discussion towards the end of another exciting week in politics.