Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Like the birth of a new child

Friday 30th January 2009 is a date forever etched in my mind. At approximately 5.30pm I received several phone calls from former Waterford Crystal workers – the Kilbarry plant was to close and the workers had commenced a sit-in protest. Hundreds of workers subsequently lost their jobs and their pensions. The brand was sold and all seemed lost. It was inconceivable that a brand built on the back of the hard work, skill and ingenuity of generations of Waterford workers was to leave the city and the country.

As a result of a genuine partnership of local civic leaders, council members, union leaders and business representatives a plan was hatched to salvage something from the wreckage. The plan was to bring crystal manufacturing into the heart of the city centre through the formation of a new company producing high-end crystal products. The plan was ambitious and risky and involved a considerable investment from Waterford City Council, Fáilte Ireland and others. Some doubted it would happen at all.

On Tuesday 22nd June 2010 a vision became a reality. A fabulous new facility was opened in the heart of the city centre. The new House of Waterford Crystal boasts a state of the art showroom showcasing some of the most prestigious and treasured crystal in the world. It will attract tens of thousands of visitors in the years ahead and in turn will boost the local tourist industry and economy. It will be dovetailed nicely by the continued development of the Viking triangle with three different and unique museums charting a thousand years of history all within a stones throw of each other.

For many Waterford people Friday 30th January 2009 was like a death in the family. Conversely Tuesday 22nd June 2010 was like the birth of a new child. Yesterday as I stood on the Plaza outside the fabulous new House of Waterford Crystal I thought of what had gone before and the thousands of people who previously worked in ‘the Glass’. I recalled Jim Nolan’s award winning radio documentary which charted the history of the Kilbarry plant, warts and all. I hope those left fighting for their pensions succeed in their efforts. I also sensed a new determination, a focus and a unity I had not previously witnessed. This new venture has brought out the best in Waterford and its people. Those of us fortunate enough to be present toasted a new future in sparkling Waterford Crystal glasses that were half full and not half empty.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Waterford city is being transformed before our eyes

The newly named Menapia Building and home to the House of Waterford Crystal will be formally opened next week. The former ESB building has been transformed into something special. The ground floor is the entrance to the new Waterford Crystal building, provides access to the crystal manufacturing tour and a magnificent showroom which would not look out of place in Fifth Avenue Manhattan. The remaining floors will be utilised by the Roads and Environment Departments of Waterford City Council.

Today the new Viking Triangle Walking Tour commenced. It takes in the Plaza at Waterford Crystal, Reginalds Tower, Greyfriars, 13th Century Choristers Hall, the Medieval Mayors Wine Vault, Christchurch Cathedral, Bishops Palace, the recently revamped Theatre Royal, City Hall and the Thomas Francis Meagher Memorial. The 18th Century Bishops Palace building will be restored to its original state and will be one of three museums in the Viking triangle. A splendid 18th Century Garden will surround the Bishops Palace building.

What is so exciting is that this is only the beginning. The council intends to forge ahead with plans to build an iconic building on the quay. A 10,000 sq ft barge will be constructed out onto the river either side of the Clock Tower. This will become the permanent home of the House of Waterford Crystal. Parts of the Menapia building and its surrounding buildings will eventually become a craft village creating local employment.

The quay itself is to be transformed. The four lane system will be replaced with two lanes separated in sections by tree lined wedges. A new roundabout will be placed at the Kiezer Street entrance and another at the Gladstone Street entrance on the quay. The exciting new plans will also include bus and cycle lanes on stretches of the quay from Rice Bridge to the corner of Colebeck Street on the Mall. The new infrastructure provided under the Green Routes will hopefully be matched by investment in improved bus services. While Waterford faces many social problems and far too many of our citizens have no jobs the positive work of Waterford City Council and others must not go unnoticed. Our city is being transformed before our eyes and it is wonderful sight.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Standing up for basic human decency is important

There are times when you must take a stand and defend what is right. On Monday night I proposed a motion condemning the recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza aid flotilla and calling on the Government to expel the Israeli ambassador. I was taking a stand for those International aid workers who were killed and those attempting to help the long suffering Palestinian people. I was defending human rights, civil rights and International law. Israel is a rogue state which is out of control. The indiscriminate and indefensible murder of nine humanitarian aid workers was an act of cowardice.

There is a responsibility on all democrats to defend International law and human rights. Such violations by the state of Israel must meet with resistance and there must be consequences. The murder of innocent aid workers is wrong. The illegal blockade on Gaza is wrong. Carrying out extra-judicial assassinations is wrong. The murder, torture, imprisonment and oppression of the people of Gaza is wrong. It is the children of Gaza who are suffering most. Tonight the local elected representatives of Waterford City took a stand and went beyond condemnation. We called for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled.

Last week the World Cup was officially opened in South Africa. It was not so long ago that South Africa was an apartheid state. If it was not for members of the International community taking a stand the apartheid regime in South Africa would not have been dismantled as quickly. I am certain of this. The behaviour of the state of Israel affects not just the Palestinian people but the people of Israel also. I thank my council colleagues for supporting the motion. We the elected representatives of Waterford City have played our part in standing up for human rights, civil rights and for the besieged people of Gaza. We stood up for basic human decency and that is important.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Corporate pirates and corrupt politicians mug the people

The banking reports published yesterday tell us little that we did not already know. A combination of bad lending choices, a property bubble, light touch banking regulation and Government economic policies wrecked the economy. These are reports of fraud, burglary and mugging of the Irish people by a gang of corporate criminals, aided by Brian Cowen and his government colleagues. They show how Cowen and Fianna Fail-led governments recklessly managed our economy and led us directly into the current financial crisis. They are an indictment of Government policy and particularly of Brian Cowen’s role as Finance Minister. They are also an indictment of the financial regulator, rating agencies and bankers.

The tragedy is that all of this could have been avoided. In the 2007 General Election all of the main political parties with the exception of Sinn Féin engaged in auction politics. They did so at a time when cracks were beginning to appear and it was clear that economic growth was unsustainable. From Fianna Fáil to Fine Gael and Labour they promised tax cuts, increased spending and a slashing of stamp duty which would have further fuelled the property bubble. They acted irresponsibly. Sinn Féin was the only party to exercise caution and prudence.

These reports vindicate SF economic policy and what we have warned about for years. We called for stronger regulation; caps on remuneration; an end to property inflation; fair tax policy based on stable direct taxation; corporate law to be improved; a tax on speculative trading; and counter-cyclical budget policies. We were dismissed by the Government and other opposition parties as ‘economically illiterate’. How ironic is that today? This is important as over the next number of days you will see desperate spinning from the Government blaming everyone but themselves and equally from Fine Gael and Labour as they engage in revisionism. It will be a phony war as both Fine Gael and Labour were part of an economic consensus along with the Government.

The focus now must move from these reports. The focus must now be on the banking inquiry, who will run it and will it be completely private? It must not be a whitewash and we need to see its outcomes acted upon. We also need to see new and robust regulation of our banking system and the removal of bankers potentially exposed in these reports. A new beginning must bring new policies and new thinking. We need to learn from our mistakes including following a pro-cyclical budgetary approach and reliance on unsustainable taxes. The slash and burn policies of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael aided and abetted by Labour will exacerbate the problem. Brian Cowen should follow through on taking his share of the responsibility and resign. Where else in the world would you be held up as responsible for such incredible failures and remain in place?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Closing a rail line the height of stupidity

There are times when it is almost impossible to find a rationale for a decision made by this Government. It is not so long ago that a decision was made to scale back the 24 hour air sea rescue helicopter service for Waterford. This was later overturned by people power and common sense. Now we are faced with a decision to close the Waterford to Rosslare Railway line. The line runs between Waterford city and Rosslare port, with trains stopping at towns and villages in south Wexford. It has been in operation since 1906.

Where is the sense in this proposal? What is ironic is that as the Western Rail Corridor is opened the Waterford to Rosslare line is being closed. Waterford has seen many rail lines closed in the past. Once closed they are very rarely re-opened. The closure of this line will have an effect on business, tourism and commuters to Waterford. It will force many commuters traveling from South Wexford to drive and increase traffic congestion. Instead of encouraging and enabling the use of public transport this short sighted decision will do the reverse.

The people of Waterford need to make their voices heard. We must not allow this line to be closed. Every effort must be made to save the line and ensure its future viability. It is ironic that this line is being closed under a so called ‘green’ government. So much for public transport! I strongly believe that a combination of people and political power will see this decision overturned. The people of Waterford and Wexford need to work together. Politicians in Waterford and Wexford need to work together. Just like the air sea rescue service common sense must prevail. The Government must overturn this decision, save the line and ensure its future viability.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The illegal blockade on Gaza must end

A rally was held in Waterford City on Saturday in solidarity with International Aid workers trying to get much needed supplies to the people of Gaza. The rally was organised by the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Committee and the Waterford Council of Trade Unions. I addressed the rally on behalf of Sinn Féin. The rally was also addressed by Mr. Tom Hogan President of the WCTU, Mr. Tom Curran ISPC, Cllr John Halligan Mayor of Waterford, Cllr Seamus Ryan Labour Party and Cllr Davy Walsh Workers Party. All councillors present vowed to support an emergency motion that I will table at a meeting of Waterford City Council next week calling for an end to the illegal blockade of Gaza, for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland and for a new International Aid mission to help the long suffering people of Gaza.

We gathered in solidarity with dozens of International Aid workers trying to get much needed supplies to the people of Gaza. We also gathered in solidarity with the long suffering people of Gaza. Only a few short hours before the rally and in defiance of International opinion, Israeli forces boarded the Irish humanitarian aid ship the Rachel Corrie. No report of injuries has been made of yet but communications with the crew or passengers has not been possible. I reiterated the demand that the Rachel Corrie be allowed to proceed to Gaza with its cargo of aid consisting of cement, school supplies, wheelchairs and other much needed items. Israel must immediately release all passengers and crew. The illegal blockade of Gaza which is causing a humanitarian crisis must be lifted immediately. The Irish Government must act now and should expel the Israeli Ambassador which will give effect to the all- party motion which was passed in the Dáil on Tuesday this week. That motion said there would be diplomatic consequences if the passage of the Rachel Corrie was interfered with.

Next week I will table an emergency motion condemning the killing of humanitarian aid workers in International waters, calling for the ending of the illegal blockade of Gaza, for the immediate expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland and for a new International aid mission to assist the long suffering people of Gaza. The motion will be supported by the Mayor of Waterford Cllr John Halligan, councilors from the Labour Party, the Workers Party and other independents. I am hopeful the motion will be passed as a clear message needs to be sent on behalf of the people of Waterford that such actions carried out by Israel cannot go unpunished.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is bailing out the banks more important then bailing out the people?

It seems that the bailing out of banks is more important then bailing out the people. Today’s live register figures show an increase of 6,600 people signing on the dole in May of this year. This is extraordinary as the jobless figure nationally is climbing towards a half a million people. And yet it was announced this week that the Government has pumped another €2 billion into Anglo Irish Bank. When will this madness end?

The Government cannot continue to gamble with the future of the people of this state by throwing good money after bad in a zombie bank while at the same time neglecting all of those out of work. Instead of investing in job creation and retention the Government has cut the social welfare, child benefit and is now eyeing up the lone parent payment and old age pension.

We now have a reality of many thousands of our young, educated and highly trained work-force facing into long term unemployment unless the Government gets serious about job creation. These are people who want to work. They want to put their skills and education to good use. They do not want to emigrate. I know this as I spoke to hundreds of them outside the local social welfare office as they signed postcards demanding jobs.

The Social Welfare Bill, published late last week, is an insult to these people. The Bill is not about encouraging people to work. It is more about targeting the least well off in society to pay for the economic mess and making it tough for our young people to stay in the country.

Sinn Féin has a different plan. We want to stimulate the economy by creating jobs for the unemployed. Last year I published comprehensive job creation proposals for Waterford. Nationally Sinn Féin put forward a document detailing more than 80 proposals to get Ireland back to work. Had these proposals been implemented thousands of jobs could have been saved and new ones created. Today’s live register figures certainly would not be as stark as they are.

And this year we have put forward proposals to take 50,000 young people off the dole by putting them into employment or onto training courses.

It is clear from the positive response that we have got for our ‘Jobs for the Unemployed’ campaign that the people demand action on this issue. They are fed up watching bankers and developers being bailed out while they are left on the dole. The Government must get serious about job creation.

You can achieve water conservation without water charges

The Government are paving the way for the introduction of full domestic water charges. The pretext for the introduction of water charges is water conservation. This is surely a joke when you consider what little has been done to encourage and achieve water conservation in the past. Despite an explosion of housing development with an average of 60,000 units built each year over the last decade little was done to incorporate water-saving technologies in new homes. In any event to conserve water the first thing that needs to be done is the upgrading of our water infrastructure to deal the fact that almost 40% of treated water is wasted through leaks. This means we are producing almost twice the amount of treated water needed.

Installing meters to facilitate the introduction of water charges will cost about €600 million. To cover this cost householders will be charged sums varying from €200 to €580 depending on the location of the dwelling and other factors. Investing in upgrading the water treatment and delivery systems would be more cost effective than installing meters. It would make far more sense to invest this €600 million in upgrading the system.

But this of course would deny the Government an opportunity to introduce a local cash register in each home. While it has been stated that households will be allocated a free basic allowance with charges for water in excess of this, the reality is once charges are introduced bills for ordinary householders will steadily creep up, as with waste charges, as this becomes one of the few sources of revenue for local authorities. Again as with the introduction of waste charges the introduction of charges for water is a precursor to the privatisation of water services to which we are opposed because water is an essential service best provided by the state.

So what is the alternative? Yesterday I launched the party's campaign of opposition to the introduction of charges with Councillors Brendan Mansfield and Pat Fitzgerald. At the launch we pointed out that you can achieve water conservation without water charges. For example the Government should introduce grants to allow households introduce water-saving technologies such as low-flush showerheads and toilets, grey-water recycling systems, and rainwater harvesting in their homes at affordable prices. This will also create jobs in the green technology area. All new housing builds should also be subject to robust planning guidelines which include high standard water-saving technology. The Government could also roll out a public education campaign informing people of the value of clean water and giving them simple ways to cut their water usage. Of course to do this would miss the point – this has nothing to do with water conservation and everything to do with increasing taxes on those already hit the hardest.