Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Unacceptable delays in Garda vetting process

In recent years we have seen improved and enhanced child protection legislation introduced in this state. I welcome this and it is vital that we have the highest standards in child care and protection. One of the areas which has improved greatly is in the area of Garda vetting and the establishment of the National Garda Vetting Unit. The Garda Vetting Unit provides employment vetting to a large number of organisations including community, sporting and child care services. The process extends to people who work in these areas whether on a paid or voluntary basis. There are approximately 18,000 organisations in receipt of vetting services from the Garda vetting unit for employment purposes, covering the wide range of health, educational, sporting and recreational sectors in Ireland.

As a consequence the number of vetting applications has increased from 137,000 nationally in 2006 to 250,000 in 2009. This is resulting in significant delays and many applicants are waiting months for their clearance certificate. I am aware of a number of long-term delays in clearing applicants who are waiting to start community employment schemes and training courses. I know of one woman who was offered a job as a C.E. worker months ago but is unable to take up the position as she is waiting for her Garda clearance application to be processed. I know of a number of other cases of people waiting to commence C.E. schemes and training courses but are unable to do so due to a delay in the vetting process.

This is unacceptable. We have 440,000 people nationally and 14,500 people locally out of work. It is difficult enough to get a job, a place on a C.E. scheme or access to a training course without further impediments put in the way. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says the average waiting time is 5 weeks. This is simply not the case on the ground. Despite assurances from the Minister that extra personnel have been assigned to the National Vetting Unit I am not entirely satisfied that the unit is properly resourced and staffed. The massive increase in the number of organisations in receipt of vetting services is undoubtedly putting added pressure on the national vetting unit. I fully support the vetting process and I accept that stringent checks must be made to ensure the safety of children but it is unacceptable that people are unable to take up training and employment positions because of protracted delays in the vetting process.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Heroin use is complex and challenging but it is a challenge we must meet

There is no doubt that we have a very serious and worsening heroin problem in Waterford City. Recent H.S.E. reports have shown an increase in the numbers of people presenting for heroin addiction. Community based drug programmes are dealing with increased numbers of heroine addicts. All of the law enforcement figures point to a massive increase in heroin seizures and as a consequence heroin use.

In his presentation to the Joint Policing Committee meeting Chief Superintendent Pat Murphy said that heroin represented 20% of all drugs seized this year in Waterford. This figure points to an obvious shift away from other drugs to heroin by drug users. This is a regrettable situation but is the reality of where we are. Heroin use presents a whole new set of challenges to all agencies and drug users and their families. It is a very destructive drug. It deeply affects not just the user but their families and the wider community.

It is vital that we make people aware of the destructive nature of the drug. We need to ensure that people make the right choice and steer clear of heroin. We also need to ensure that all of the treatment and support services are in place to treat the user and support the family. The lifestyle and attitude of the user is important and they are most vulnerable post treatment as they become exposed to situations which can trigger a relapse. I have met many families whose sons, daugthers, brothers and sisters have suffered at the hands of heroin addiction. I know the issue of heroin use is complex and challenging but it is a challenge we must meet.

I acknowledge the huge amount of work being done by many agencies in combating the problem but we must re-double our efforts. I am pleased that my call for the holding of an inter-agency meeting has been accepted by the Mayor and will take place in September. We need to look at where the gaps in service provision exist and set priorities. This is a serious problem we cannot ignore or wish away.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We need a jobs plan now

Last week the Government were quick to announce the end of the recession. In a game of smoke and mirrors the Government presented figures which suited their argument and ignored those which did not. Gross National Product was marginally up but crucially Gross Domestic Product was down. GDP focuses on Irish domestic economic activity which is still on a downward spiral. An OCED report last week provided an important backdrop to the real problem in the economy – 445,000 people are out of work. The report reinforced the need for the Government to bring forward a job creation strategy.

This state has lost 100,000 jobs a year or 2,000 jobs a week since this Fianna Fáil/Green coalition took office. The reality is that the nature of any modest economic recovery will be so weak that it is unlikely to absorb the growth in unemployment caused by the recession. The jobs crisis cannot be wished away.

There is understandable public anger at the antics of the Government. Last week the Government voted to take a three month holiday from the Dáil. I think that the 14,500 people in Waterford out of work will find this outrageous. I think the many businesses in Waterford who are struggling to stay afloat will be livid. It is yet another example of establishment politicians living in a different world from the rest of us.

Last week Sinn Féin held a demonstration in Dungravan, Co. Waterford demanding Government action on jobs. I spoke to an auctioneer who talked about businesses closing and the lack of effort and support from Government needed to save jobs. I spoke to a local restaurant owner who has let half his staff go and whose business is facing imminent closure. I spoke to countless people who are unemployed and who see no hope for the future.

The tragedy is that there are solutions and there are ideas. I have published comprehensive job creation proposals for Waterford. Sinn Féin has published comprehensive proposals nationally. In this difficult time we need to support entrepreneurs and encourage and enable new business start-ups. We need to be clear about where the jobs of tomorrow are and how we create them. We need the statutory authorities working together in a joined up way. There are tremendous opportunities in the areas of tourism, green technology, IT and digital sector and in the area of agri-business.

Young people especially must have a future in Waterford. Young people have a central role to play in changing Waterford and achieving political, social and economic change. Entrepreneurs need to be given the supports they need to create the jobs of tomorrow. We have the ability and the talent in Waterford but in many areas we are lacking in action.

Photo courtesy of Dungarvan Observer