Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Why I'm staying and fighting!

Today we learned that another colleague and person I will continue to call comrade, Cllr. Dermot Looney, has resigned form the Labour Party. Like a number of others who have decided to leave our party, it is hardly a shock, particularly to those of us who have been listening to Dermot for a while now. Dermot's decision is disappointing but it also raises a number of serious questions which I believe he needs to answer.

I was one of the first people on the phone to congratulate Dermot on his election as Mayor of South Dublin. Having just completed my year-long term as Mayor of Kilkenny I appreciated the huge honour it is and the thrill it would be for Dermot. My grandfather had served as a member of the old Dublin County Council representing the Tallaght area. Like Dermot and I he was also a primary teacher and also gave the odd blast of a song. 'The Red Flag' wouldn't have been his thing however, given that he was a Fine Gael councillor. I'd like to think however that he would have respected his grandson singing the Jim Connell song with gusto.

One thing he would have been very strong on however was loyalty. Whether Dermot likes it or not, the people of his area elected him in 2009 as a LABOUR councillor. All of us as party candidates benefited from a considerable support for the party and regardless of our view of how wonderful we were as candidates, people were choosing to vote for our party as well as for us as individuals.

Prior to his election, Dermot was selected by the members of the party in South Dublin as their candidate. On the night of that selection convention he signed a pledge to contest the election as a Labour candidate and if elected, to sit and act with the Labour group on the council as a Labour member, abiding by the majority decisions of the group. One of the major benefits of this decision of course came after the election of 2009 when it was decided who would chair South Dublin County Council over the next five years. This is a difficult period of negotiation for all councillors, particularly newly elected members who often get pushed aside by long-serving members who can insist on keeping all the important positions for themselves. It would also not be unknown for local sitting TD's to ensure that young, ambitious councillors are kept at bay. As one older party member said to me years ago- always remember a weak parish priest hates a strong curate!! Yet that didn't happen. The young, articulate and ambitious councillor was granted the right to be the last Mayor of South Dublin before this year's election. That decision was made by Dermot's fellow Labour councillors. I can only imagine how they feel today.

Let me also state clearly that I see ambition as a GOOD thing. The old notion that we should all hide our candle under a bushel is often a great way of putting us down. I do feel however that a trust that was freely entered into with Dermot has been broken. Elected as a Labour member and then chosen as a Labour Mayor by his Labour colleagues, the timing of Dermot's resignation is puzzling to say the least. Did his reservations only start now, just over half way through his term of office? Why did Dermot decide to continue to be elected Mayor in June when those reservations were clearly already in place?

I am not going to resort to bad-mouthing Dermot or any of my other former colleagues. I won't use the phrase traitors or any other insults in relation to people whom I consider to be friends but I am disappointed. I do feel let down and I am staying to fight for what I believe in.

And here are the reasons why:
I am Labour!
Like Dermot I began my political life as a student activist. Having briefly followed the liberal and slightly socially democratic path of Garret Fitzgerald in my early teens, I discovered student politics in college. I quickly saw the left and socialist politics as the way to achieve real and substantial change in society. I still believe that today. I also believe, as articulated by Jack O' Connor that Ireland should, like most civilised countries, have one strong and united left and that the people of Ireland should be represented by at least a left-led Government in order to have the fair and equal society which all of us on the left should aspire to.

Unfortunately the people of Ireland in their wisdom have yet to choose that path. In the last General election, whether we like it or not, the people chose a centre-right led Government. They also, in my view, chose to have a major section of that Government made up by the leading party of the left in Ireland. Unlike Dermot I accepted the decision of the people of Ireland and believed that Labour had a responsibility to play its part in turning our country around in a way that protected the most vulnerable in our society. Let's remember the alternative governments on offer after that election. We could have had a minority FG govt supported by a rag-tag of independents, the majority of those likely to support FG would have been deeply right-wing. Alternatively we could have had a FF/FG combination which was simply not going to happen. Finally, we could have gone back to another election and those who would argue that Labour would have come back stronger in that event would be optimistic in the extreme. In my view and in the view of most observers inside and outside of Labour, we accepted the will of the Irish people. That is why I and the vast majority of Labour members voted in favour of the programme for Government. It is also the reason why I believe a majority would do so again if we had the choice, despite all the difficulties involved.

We are doing the right things, hard and all as they are.
Ironically on the day that Dermot resigned, unemployment fell for the eighteenth month in a row. On the day that another former colleague, Colm Keaveney joined Fianna Fáil a month ago, the unemployment figures fell for the seventeenth month in a row. Both Colm and Dermot railed against austerity and pain for what they like to call Labour's traditional constituency. The reality is that the most crushing austerity for working people is to be without a job. The basket-case economy we inherited is slowly being turned around, people are slowly beginning to find work, the retailers I know had a hopeful run-in to Christmas and are slightly more optimistic for the future. I don't support everything this Government has done. I have spoken out clearly against the decision to abolish our local council and campaigned against this move. I oppose many of the public service cuts, particularly those in education and the health service, despite knowing that huge reform is needed. But my opposition will be within the Labour Party. I will fight in my branch, constituency and at national level for those cuts to be reversed as soon as they can be. I will also fight for a Labour-led government as I always have.

I don't believe that there is an Irish left alternative
The Trotskyist left succeeded in having five TD's elected in the last election and SF, who are portraying themselves as socialist have a nonsensical economic policy, which like that of the Trotskyist left is based on utterly rejecting the international economic world, that of Ireland as an intrinsic part of the European Union and one in which we borrow money from international agencies when we need to to pay for Dermot's, mine and indeed Colm's salaries as well as our other vital public services.

As a democratic socialist I believe that we will have to build the fair and equitable society which Connolly and Larkin fought for here and now in the real world. Hoping that international capitalism will collapse and that we can build the international socialist nirvana will do nothing for our neighbours, family, friends and supporters who need real-world services and jobs now. Telling the Troika to take a hike and rejecting austerity are really populist and attractive slogans which may win us short-term support but in my view are deeply irresponsible. Finally, I and the majority of Labour councillors will fight for the party of Connolly and Larkin, even in the tough times.

As I said at our party conference in Killarney, my inspiration comes from people like the late Michaal Moynihan who fought five general elections and a bye-election over 27 years before finally being elected to Dáil Éireann. That is the Labour way, to roll up your sleeves and to fight for your beliefs. In that tradition I will hope that the citizens of Kilkenny City West will elect me to Kilkenny County Council in May. The choice is theirs but they will have no doubts about what I stand for.

Friday, August 03, 2012

What a month-Mayoralty of fun, sport, representing and loads more.

It's long past time I got back to blogging here and I intend to pop in every few days from here on in what is already becoming the best year of my life. I had the huge honour on the 21st. of June of being elected Mayor of Kilkenny city. This is in many ways the pinnacle of a long involvement in politics and an honour for me, my wife Marian and children Fionn and Caoilfhionn, my parents, family and friends. My speech on the night I was elected is here to be read. The night was an incredible one with my unanimous election a huge honour. I was also delighted that my friend and colleague John Coonan was elected Deputy mayor on a great night for his wife Anne and his family.We enjoyed the celebrations afterwards in city hall and repaired to my local, the Nore Bar afterwards. My first day as Mayor was action-packed. I started where I spend most of my day and most of my year in Gaelscoil Osraí where I am the principal. There I got a great welcome 'abhaile' from the students and my colleagues and we proceded to hoist our third Green Flag to celebrate the environmental efforts of the school in the past two years, particularly in relation to water conservation. I followed this up with a trip across the city (on my bike of course!) to Kilkenny Model School, where we raised their first green flag. The hostess with the mostest of course was my good friend and principal of the school, Olwen Mackey.
Later in the afternoon it was on to Kilkenny Castle where another old friend Fr. Will Purcell and his merry band in the Kilkenny Gospel Choir were launching our first International Gospel Choir festival which will take place at the beginning of September. There I met a very old firend, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Kerry football legend, Jimmy Deenihan. He tried to persuade me to join him back in Waterville the next day for the unveiling of the statue to another legend and hero of mine Mick O' Dwyer, but musch as I'd have loved to, the mayoral duties beckoned the next day. So that was day one and it hasn't quitened much since then!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My public appeal for your vote today

Here is the letter I had printed in yesterday's Kilkenny People newspaper. Please read it and pass it on if you think it can help others to see that Michael D. deserves your vote today. There's still almost five hours left to cast your vote.

A chara,
I have never before in twenty five years of political activism considered writing a public appeal on behalf of any candidate standing for election. I do so now however because I believe that we as citizens have an opportunity this Thursday to elect as Uachtarán na hÉireann the man who more than any other has inspired me and my generation and who can lift the spirit of our broken country. Never have we needed it more.

In 1987 Michael D. Higgins asked me as a young student leader to join the Labour Party in order to help change my community and play a part in changing our country. Since then I have been proud to stand alongside him in many battles which have made that change. Like he did with me, Michael D brought thousands of people into giving our time and energy to make Ireland a better place. It is the reason that every young person I know who meets him is inspired by him.

Let us also remember the real, concrete actions he took as our first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht which have had such a profound impact on Kilkenny. He established the Heritage Council which now has its headquarters in this city, he established the National Film board and put in place an incentive scheme which has led to the creation of thousands of Irish jobs, including those in companies like our own Cartoon Saloon. And let us never forget TG4. Is Michael D an chéad aire a chuir stop leis an 'caint san aeir' faoin nGaeilge agus a thug stádas lárnach, nua-aimsirthe di, ag seasamh le Ghaelscoileanna agus ag labhairt an teanga go hoscailte agus go líofa. He also established the ACCESS arts grant scheme which led to the upgrading of our Watergate theatre and the building of the George Bernard Shaw facility in Carlow.

Michael D. has always had justice and equality at the heart of his writings, thoughts and actions. Anybody who attended the protests against the Iraq war will remember his passion, his independence and his focus. He has always defended the poor and the oppressed throughout Ireland and the world and is therefore in a unique position to represent us at home and abroad.

Finally Michael D. Higgins stood clearly against the values of greed and mé féinism which destroyed this country in the past fourteen years. He will be a clear voice for the return to our best values of community, solidarity and positivity as our head of state. More than any other person he would with conviction read the section of our proclamation committing us to finally cherish all the children of the nation equally on Easter Sunday 2016. I urge every Kilkenny citizen to consider these issues before making this crucial national decision.
Is mise le meas,
Cllr. Seán Ó hArgáin

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Need to run to local meeting now so will return to this later. Joan doing well in telling the truth so far. This is another one for the wealthy-as Dave Begg says the Small Firms Association, IBEC and their fellow travellers have won the day.
Sheila Noonan puts her finger on it in desribing us as disgusted. Pay cut of €3 to €4k on teachers pay. Public sector workers have been singled out and she's right in bringing us back to the truth-Fiann Fáil are serving the masters of industry, the banks and on the backs of public sector workers! Glad to hear determination from Sheila top fight these cuts. Right too on Lenihan's condescension to us at beginning of his speech. Ahern says yes they're bracing themseves for months of industrail strife with a big grin on his face. He takes 5% while I'm expected to take 7% on top of the almost 10% i've already given. Almost a fifth of my wages gone while the super-wealthy pay nothing!
Bruton puts his finger on it now-only €55million from non-resident non-patriots. And who is being brought to book for what has happened in our rotten banks(my description here).

David Begg's reaction-people will be seething and he's right this will be hugely defaltionary. Again he asks the question why is it that Britain's way of spacing it out is wroing and that we are such economic geniuses? David's right again-it's all about driving down wages and Patricia Callan shows her colours-we must increase competitiveness-competitive with who? They want us down to Mongolian figures. The figures about pay cuts from the CSO are lies according to SFA.

And in the Blue Corner

The real cut of Ministers is 5% says richer while public servants on 30k will take more cuts-unfortunately FG has been no friend of the public service in the past year. Think I'll stick with the real opposition. Richard must have been reading my blog for that line on Teddy!:-)

Missed the €16 cut in child benefit. This will have a huge impact in poorer families. Sorry opting over to the analysis on RTÉ 1. Dermot Ahern telling us they looked after Social Welfare recipients- Brian Dobson hitting on the 8% cut in carer's benefit-hitting at the most vulnerable again. There;s nothing here to get anything from the highest earners. This rubbish about the marginal tax rates is just old-fashioned Thatcherism with a bit of 'No New Taxes(unless you're a public servant of course) thrown in. Alex White spot on aboput the impact on people on the edge.

Even Micahael Noonan says it fails the fairness test. The cleaner in your department is taking the same as you! Good man Michael. Brings to mind his best ever moment when he compared the Fianna Fáil minister of the time to Barney Rubble hammering away at the moving stone engine!

Dermot Ahern saying we're engaging in Voodoo economics-lectures from the incompetent and inglorious .........!
Corporation tax is staying the same-it's here to stay. Changes in the finance bill to help the finaincial services sector. A retro-fit programme for environmental improvement-that's welcome and locval councils will get it also-glad to see the greens getting something! Iarnród Éireann will give cheaper travel to visiting elderly people while continuing to jack up the prices for the rest of us. Usiong Teddy Kennedy in the budget-a Kennedy visitor centre. Try keeping our young people at home instead! Here comes the BS-we have in place a plan- we have been fair. Reduced the cost of the public sector. We will save jobs=we have turned the corner-just like the nonsense of 'the fundamentals of the economy are intact' of 2 years ago.
€70 million for flood relief-the excellent work done in Kilkenny cost the guts of that alone and that's what he gives the country! Cross border shopping reaction-excise duty on drink brought down and he thinks that will stop it. Fianna Fáil threatening the publicans-I'm sure that'll worry them, He reverses the half percent VAT rate but nothing further. A car scrappage scheme.
A return from the banks!! A credit review system. You can be guearanteed that checking up on the banks lending to small businesses will never be followed through on. We don't need a committee to ask the banks to give credit-we need a national bank that will do it!
Everyone must make a contribution but no new taxes for the high-rollers in the private sector. The CSO figures told us the truth about the huge numbers in the private sector who have taken no hit. Here somes McCarthy-an efficiency review of local Government-are we getting cuts or not? An investment in school buildings-that'll make a change!
Investment programme for mental health-who's he going to sell the HSE and and buildings top now that the market is flattened. Back to Dev's bonds! More money for training for the poor people who you've thrown onto the dole queues-as long as they're not 20 or 21 of course.
No pay cuts to existing public service pensioners-you remember last year Brian! Here come the Social Welfare cuts-a cut of 4% and a cut down to €100 for young people who find themselves jobless because of your Government's bungling. That should fill the planes and the boats.
There were lengthy negotiations until you pullede the rug from under your boss so you could get away with this nonsense. Reduction of 5% for first 30k and up to 8k for the rest of us. Now he tells us that no tax on lump sum after half of the top grades have retired in fear of it after a year of uncertainty. Not another pension levy! No yellow pack pensions for new entrants so our pensions are as pathetic as the private sector unregulated pension cowboys.
Carbon tax-they'll use the proceeds to end fuel poverty. Tell that to those in receipt of the pathetic fuel allowance for the past decade.They won't believe you and what about the impact on rural people with no public transport alternatives? 20% off Cowen's salary-he'll be just like Barack so. Again the judges will be urged!!! to take a paycut. Time for a referendum to ensure that we decide their rates of pay rather than a voluntary action.

Here comes the action for many of us. 'More is required'.
Mother of God-we have definitely the fairest tax system in Europe don't you know. It has 'progressivity' at its core. Accepted the need for a propoerty tax but it will take some time. Water charges are back but there'll be a free amount. Non-resident taxpayers get off scot-free again-sorry 200,000 for our tax exiles but only if their earnings in Ireland exceeds €5million.
Guess what it's all down to the International economic crisis! And who created this property bubble Brian? Here comes the pain-reduction in labour costs. Wages went up by 70%-for who? We can't borrow but Obama and Brown can. Another IBEC budget so. I'll bet decisive action won't apply to the super-wealthy.

Here we go again-pain for all?

Sitting down to my annual ritual of watching the budget speech. Here we go- everybody thinks we're wonderful in the way we're rebuilding our nation's confidence! €4billion but we'll ignore the recommendation to go to 2014. Let's screw everybody now instead.

The worst IS over!!! That one will come back to haunt you Brian.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Back to the blog-My reasons for joining the strike today.

I've been a long time away from this blog so apologies to those who've continued to check in. I took a long break after the local elections (thanks to all who supported me by the way in retaining my Borough Council seat) and I'll write more about this in the coming days.

For now it's time to address a very difficult issue-that of today's public service strike. Those who believe that we in the public service strike at the drop of a hat should examine the track record of my own union, the Irish National Teachers Union which has been on strike twice in sixty years-in 1985 and 1946, and not at all since I began my teaching life in 1987.
In the meantime, my union has fought hard to secure a reasonable rate of pay by European teaching standards, particularly for young newly qualified teachers(if they're lucky enough to get a job). In the past twelve months however we've had a huge amount of that gain taken back from us to pay for the sins of the uncontrolled bankers and the property developers who borrowed from them to build tax-incentivised houses and hotels that nobody wanted.
Yet in the twelve months since the wheels came off the celtic tiger wagon, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's the doctors, nurses, firemen, civil servants and teachers who've bankrupted the country and not the crew who should have been admitted to gamblers anonymous.
It seemed that Brian Lenihan was getting the picture when he declared in April that almost half of the now-famous €4 Billion he needed to find would come from increased taxation on the wealthy but in the past month it's become clear that all the necessary money will come from cutbacks-in our pay, but more importantly in child benefit, social welfare rates, in health services, in rural transport schemes and loads of other public services.
A simple question for Brian-why no new taxes in the middle of a crisis?-why let the super-wealthy off scot-free? Who's callin the shots here? The crew from the tent at the Galway races again?
The nonsense that passes for certainty is also riling me and most other public servants. It goes something like-'Sure everyone's lsoing their jobs and everyon's taking a pay-cut. We're all in in together and we must all take the pain.
Well tell that to Seán Quinn's children with their multi-million pay-offs from their Daddy's companies while the bank that they virtually own is being kept afloat by me and you.
Compare and contrast our approach to that of Obama where US spending on education is being trebled this year to ensure that the recovery comes quicker.
It's time for a fairer country and in my view a turning away from the free-market capitalism and neo-conservative meanness that has almost destroyed our society as well as our economy.
That's why I'm standing up for fairness today. Neither my family or I can take the loss of a day's wages easily but I believe I owe it to my lower-paid colleagues and those who will come after us to make a stand. Come and join us if you can.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The political and the human-reflections on demotion of John

Tonight is a difficult one for John McGuinness TD, a political adversary in our constituency who has not been reappointed to a Junior Ministry by Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD. On a human level this is a difficult time for John, his wife Margaret and all the McGuinness family, including my council colleague and opponent in the forthcoming local elections, Andrew. It is never easy to lose a position which you feel you have secured on merit, and one in which you have worked hard and in which you feel you have done well.

It is also a frustrating time for the McGuinness half of the Fianna Fáil team in Kilkenny who thought that by succeeding in topping the poll in 2007, and in the process, helping to deliver three seats out of five that enough had been done to secure the first step on the ministerial ladder for a politician who is, without a shadow of a doubt, bright and articulate. Indeed the McGuinness lieutenant on the Borough Council, Cllr. Joe Reidy tonight said on local radio that the step to a senior ministry was one they thought would happen sooner rather than later. Those of us of all political persuasions hoped that a senior ministry would come to Kilkenny sooner rather than later, as it is now twenty seven years since we had that honour and all it brings with it.

On a political level however, I have had my differences with John McGuinness. I believe his attacks on public servants in last year's Sunday Independent interview were wrong and unfair, but as the 'pension levy' or public service tax as it should be called has proven, many in his own party agree, including the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach.

John believes in his right to speak out, but it is the ability to attack Government decisions which your party made and which you walked through the Dáil lobbies to vote for, which I and a huge number of the voters I am meeting on the doorstep find hardest to take.

When John announced on KCLR local radio on the morning of the latest budget that the Government 'had made a bags of the last budget', he failed to mention that he had voted for it and also robustly defended it in the local and national media.

John was defiant tonight on national television stating that he had 'not been elected to the Dáil to leave his brain outside the door'. With this we all agree, but we will continue to demand that he and every Fianna Fáil TD in Carlow/Kilkenny and in the country accept their responsibility for and are held accountable for things like axing the Christmas bonus for pensioners and social welfare recipients, increasing class sizes, hatcheting services in hospitals and health clinics, abandoning the Fair Deal for those in nursing homes etc. etc. etc. and of course standing over policies which have ended up with hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.

If we didn't I'm sure John would be disappointed that we, like him, didn't use our brains and speak out to defend the weakest in our society who are being made pay for the sins of the free-market nonsense which his party has made such a boast of championing.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

On this miserable day it's nice to see our former party leader back to his best in putting the Greens in their place at last. The interview with Mary White, our local toothless TD had to be seen to be believed, but is gone form the RTÉ website unfortunately. Meanwhile the vision of John and his bicycle clips will live almost as long in the memory as that of Mary O' Rourke in the bath-but not quite as frightening!