Draft Register of Electors, 2007

The next election is due in the next 6 to 10 months, most likely in June of next year, and if you aren’t registered to vote, you will not be able to take any part in the election process.

I’ve just received the draft register of electors for November 25th. For Donegal residents, this can be checked online by clicking here. A list of ways to check for other regions is available on RegisterToVote.ie.

It’s absolutely vital that voters check this list. Corrections must be submitted before November 25th at the latest. If you’re not on this list, it may be difficult to get registered before the next election.

If you’re not on the list, get in contact with me (or your local public rep, if you’re outside Donegal) and I’ll help you get on the register.

Leisure Centre Controversy: Update

Last night, I attended a public meeting in the Orchard Inn which discussed the proposed sale of Letterkenny Leisure Centre to fund the development of the new Sports Complex at Sallaghagraine.

The meeting was well attended, with appox 30 – 50 people and a handful of politicians.

I have discussed this issue at length here before, and I still stand by all that I said before. I feel it is vital that we do everything we can to retain the site, and if it can be shown that the Leisure Centre could continue to operate succesfully alongside the new Centre, that the Council should support this.

A number of suggestions were made which give us possible ways to move the issue forward. Doreen Sheridan-Kennedy suggested that the Council should work with Donegal VEC to attempt to sell the facility for use as a schools and educational facility. Cllr Neil Clarke suggested selling other lands to cover the money needed. Frank Gallagher, of the Green Party, suggested that the council should sell the new centre instead.

Cllr Jimmy Harte suggested simply reneging on the commitment that the council made in 2002 (before I was on the council, but while he was). When I raised the point that while the council could easily change the decision to sell the centre, the money (est E2 million) would have to come from somewhere, Cllr Harte said that was a matter “for the executive”. In effect, he was asking Councillors to write a cheque for E2 million (approx 25% of our annual budget), knowing that there was no money in the bank to cover it.

If the council were to do that, it would be a complete abdication of our responsibilities as Councillors, to the tax payers and rate payers in the town.

The new sports centre is a fantastic facility, unseen in most towns Letterkenny’s size. It would not have been possible for Letterkenny Town Council to commit to such a project (it’s an E18 million project, with E6 million in Central Government funding) unless they were able to secure loans. The council were only able to secure Government consent for such loans due to the healthy state of the Council’s finance. There is no massive stockpile of cash available, but there was no debt either, and a strong rate base to cover the repayments.

By suggesting the Council simply abandon the sale, without any idea of where to find the funding, Cllr Harte is proposing that we jeopardise not only the operation of both the site at High Road and the new centre, but also the ability of the Council to fund ambitious projects such as this in the future.

That is not something I could accept or support. I don’t think I would be alone in that. Even the Green Party’s Cllr Neil Clarke, who has strongly opposed plans to sell Council land in the past, is aware that the council needs to get this money somewhere, and raised the potential for selling alternative lands.

I believe this issue can be resolved, and the council can continue to develop and extend the services we provide in the town. But this needs to be done in a realistic manner, not by taking short-term decisions for the sake of political expediency.

I appreciate your comments on this matter. To prevent duplication, I ask that any comments are attached to the original post on the leisure centre.

Stop the Carnage: Update 2

The Road Safety Campaign is going from strength to strength. I’d like to thank you all for your comments, posts, emails and texts.

I’ve posted two updates on the RoadSafetyBlog.com site today.

First up was proposals on how to move the project forward over the coming weeks. The big date to hit is November 27th, which is the closing date for submissions to the Road Safety Authority’s Road Safety Strategy, 2007 – 2012.

Secondly, a post aimed at Bebo users. As many of you have said, we need to expand this campaign beyond just bloggers, and we all know how many young people in Ireland use Bebo. I’ve setup a page at http://roadsafety.bebo.com and sent invites to the people I know on Bebo. It’s the first time I’ve used Bebo, so if there’s anyone who can help out with this side of things please get in touch. And, of course, if you’re a bebo user, please sign up!

Comments are welcome; please post them on the original post

Stop The Carnage: Update

I’d really like to thank everyone who has supported the “Stop The Carnage” campaign.

I’ve posted an update on the RoadSafetyBlog.com website with a plan as to how we can proceed, and to get a submission in for the Road Safety Authority’s upcoming Road Safety Strategy 2007 – 2012. I’d appreciate any comments you have on these proposals.

If you have any ideas on ways to spread this campaign, please leave a comment here.

Here’s some of the sites and blogs that have made submissions:
Twenty Major (NSFW)
Comments on Mulley.net
Gerry O’Sullivan
Stall The Ball
Winds and Breezes
The Community At Large
Dan Sullivan
Michele Neylon
Letters from the Idiot
Donncha O’Caoimh
Gerry Gainford
Head Rambles

Irish Road Carnage- What Can We Do?

This post has been recovered from an archived page. Full post (including all comments) available here: Archive.org

Another Monday morning, another weekend of carnage on the Irish roads.

At the same time, we have judges failing to disqualify drivers caught racing at 200kph on the Mullingar bypass while video-taping each other.

We despair about the state of Irish roads, road safety and driving. In particular, young male drivers come in for much criticism. As a young male driver, I fuly accept this criticism is relevant. Events like this weekend show that.

Yes, there are many, many young drivers who drive safely (I’d say easily over 95%), but the statistics do not lie. It is young people who are dying on the roads of Ireland. They are dying every week, primarily at the weekend and almost always at night.

Young people must now stand up and take the lead on this issue. We are killing each other. The Government, The Road Safety Authority and Local Authorities around the Country are doing what they can, but this is an issue that every Irish person needs to get involved with.

It’s time to stand up and be counted. Last week, I made a small contribution to a Highland Radio debate on E-Voting. From that, I got coverage across the Internet, peaking with a piece in the main section of yesterday’s Sunday Times. Without the Internet, I would just be another small-time politician speaking to a local audience.

The Internet amplified my small contribution to that debate. E-Voting is important, but voting machines won’t kill 400 Irish people this year.

What can we do? I’d like to see Irish Bloggers declare this “Stop The Carnage Week”. We each have a voice; this is an issue on which we need to be as vocal as possible. But, if everyone shouts “something must be done” we’ll be no further on than we are today.

Here’s what I’d like to do:

  • Write a post on your own blog
  • Tag it with ““, link to this post or add a comment below with the link
  • If you don’t have a blog, you can comment here
  • Most importantly, we need your suggestions on how to improve things
  • I’ll prepare a report on the submissions, and forward it to the Minister, Taoiseach, Road Safety Authority, Insurance Federation and every member of the Oireachtas.

To get started, here are some of my suggestions:

  • When a driver loses their licence, they lose their licence.
    Rather than a suspension, as currently happens, the driver is banned from driving for the period and must then apply for a provisional licence, and resit their test, rather than automatically getting their (often clean) licence back.
  • Permanent Penalty Points
    Currently, penalty points expire after three years. I propose two changes – firstly, for serious breaches like Drink Driving, Speeding and Dangerous Driving, penalties points should be permanent. Second, once you have been banned your licence should be automatically loaded with a number of permanent points, related to the reason for your ban.
  • Zero Tolerance Approach
    A few issues really get to me. I believe their should be automatic bans for, among other things, using a mobile phone while driving, drink driving, driving while uninsured and driving without a licence.
  • Two Strikes, You’re Out
    Everyone deserves a second chance, but if someone has been banned from driving, then resat their driving test and returned to the road, their should be no more chances. A second driving ban should see a driver off the road, permanently.
  • Probation Period & Repeat Tests
    The entire system of driver education in Ireland needs to be completely overhauled. Two elements I’d like to see, as part of a new testing system, are a probation period and repeat tests. I believe newly qualified drivers should have all the same rights as other drivers (speed limits, distance, hours etc), but they should be at risk of having their licence revoked on four points, instead of twelve, for the first two years. New drivers should also be tested at least once again after they pass their test, to ensure that at least a year passes before the bad habits form.

I’m not a perfect driver*, and I’m sure there are things I do on the road that would annoy many people as the items above get to me. We all need to be committed to full awareness while on the roads, at all times.

I can’t do this on my own, so any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Drop me an email or a comment if you can help out. I’ve registered roadsafetyblog.com today to co-ordinate and develop this campaign, but it’ll be a few days before that domain is operational.

* I failed my test twice, when I was 17 and 18. First time, I went through an Orange light on the way back into the testing centre. Second time, I was “too cautious” while taking right turns at the New Line Road/Glencar Road junction. I now have my (clean!) licence over five years

Update: In my haste to get this started, I forgot to mention RoadDeaths.ie, the first Irish site to tackle this issue. Their Map of Road Deaths is very chilling.

Leisure Centre Controversy

Much controversy has erupted recently regarding the Council’s decision, taking a good few years ago, to sell the site of the current Letterkenny Leisure Centre, on the High Road, as part of the funding package for the new Regional Sports Centre, at Sallaghraine. A meeting took place this week, at which the Letterkenny Community Residents Association took the decision that they would attempt to oppose the closure. They have called another meeting, for October 24th at 8:30 in the Orchard, to discuss the plans further.

I have some reservations about parts of the plans for the new Centre, and have raised them both at Monday night’s Council meeting and in private with Council officials since. I am awaiting clarification on some of these issues back from the Council.

To clarify one point in particular, the Leisure Centre on the High Road is not turning a profit. The Centre is very well run, and has greatly improved its financial performance in recent years. But it is still losing money. Last year, it lost approx. E270,000, and continues at a similar rate this year. I have no problem with this; Letterkenny Town Council covers the loss, as part of our remit to provide a public Leisure service, Indeed, I consider this to be among the best money we spend.

There are three issues being muddled together as part of the current controversy:

  1. Closure of existing Leisure Centre
  2. Sale of site on High Road
  3. Management of new Centre, at Sallaghraine

I’d like to address those three items, in reverse.

Management of new Centre

The Town Council, before I was a member, took the decision that the best way to manage the centre would be with the involvement of an outside contractor with experience managing similar centres.

I have difficulty in accepting this. Currently, the Town Council succesfully manages our existing centre, and a similar body operates An Grianan Theatre. I fully believe we could effectively mange the new Complex in a similar fashion, and that the involvement of a third party would not be desireable.

However, I do not have the full facts behind the decision yet. When I get this information, I will be better able to discuss this issue.

Sale of site at High Road

The new development at Sallaghraine is budgetted at approx. E18.5 million. E6 million of this has come from Government funds, with the rest being delivered locally.

Part of this came from a loan of E5 million, secured by the Town Council. At the time the loan was issued, Letterkenny Town Council was one of only a handful of local authorities capable of getting approval for a loan of this size, due to the healthy state of the Council’s finances.

The sale of the site at High Road makes up a substantial part of the funding package for the new centre. The value of the site is estimated at E2 million.

My view on this is simple; if anyone can identify a better place to get the E2 million, I’ll listen to them and give it full consideration. As yet, nobody has suggested any other source for the funding.

It would be fantastic if Letterkenny Town Council could retain ownership of this valuable site for the future. I feel, however, that the new sports centre is a much better investment of the money than leaving the site there, unused, for the future.

Closure of existing Leisure Centre

Firstly, if you don’t know what is going into the new sports centre, please read this article first.

I live very near the current leisure centre, and have made regular use of it since it first opened. I learned to swim there. In my time as a Councillor, I have seen the huge efforts that go into running the Centre, and the great work done by the staff there.

As I said above, the Centre is currently running a (manageable) loss, despite having a high volume of visits. Letterkenny Town Council has committed to running the current Centre until the day the new Centre opens.

The big problem arrives when the new Centre opens. It is clear that people will be attracted to use the facilities of the new Centre. This would mean less of trade at the High Road centre, meaning it would require more of a subsidy from the Town Council. This is money that would have to be raised from local rates, and diverted from other projects in the town.

The operation of two centres would harm the trade in both, meaning two massive subsidies would be required from the Council, when we could run one centre with either a small loss, or potentially breaking even. When we consider the various strains on Council finances, I don’t believe that is justifiable.

I’m not an accountant, so I could be wrong in these points. If anyone cares to raise anything about these points, or any other, please leave a comment. It will go straight on to the page, and be viewable to everyone who reads this post.

For me, the most important issue in this is the employment situation for the staff the High Road centre. The Centre is run fantastically, and the staff there could provide invaluable support to the new Centre. It is vital that Letterkenny Town Council ensures the best possible way of ensuring we get our qualified, experienced staff from the High Road Centre to the new complex at Sallaghraine. I’m absolutely emphatic about this point, and it is connected to my views on bringing in an outside company to manage the new Centre.

I have posted this here in the hope of stimulating debate. I have raised the issues that are concerning me, and would welcome any comments you have to make on this project. If you would rather not comment directly on the site, you can get in contact with me directly.

Update: Post following public meeting on Oct 24th, 2006

St Eunan’s College Centenary Celebrations

It’s been a busy year in Letterkenny. Between the Fleadh Cheoil, Comedy Festival, Pan-Celtic Festival, Oireachtas, International Rally, and Letterkenny Reunion, the town has been busy pretty much all year.

Here’s another event to add to that list. Saint Eunan’s College is celebrating its One Hundredth Birthday with a weekend of events early next month. They’ve also launched a new website recently, which already has a huge amount of information on it and continues to grow every time I check it.

One of my proudest (and most surreal) moments as Mayor was returning to St Eunan’s to present the prizes at the Senior Prizegiving back in September of last year.

I got a lot out of my time in the College, as I’m sure most people who went there did. The College is very strong at Academic subjects, but it is exceptional at Extra-Curricular activities. I’m not just talking about Sport; the staff there dedicate their time to a wide range of activities, including foreign exchanges and after-school programmes in computers, drama and numerous other events throughout the year.

On a side note, I’ve just found the website for the Loreto Convent / College (who celebrated their 150th anniversary last year), but can’t see one for Colaiste Ailigh