Monday, 22 December 2014

STRAIGHT TALKING with 'The Duke'

Household charge chaos


The decision of the Government to penalise Roscommon County Council €1.7 million because of non-compliance with the household charge (see report elsewhere in this week’s Roscommon People) is one of the most cynical and sly measures that I have ever seen in my time watching politics. 

  The matter was debated at some length at the County Council meeting on Monday and there are a number of points that I want to make about the controversy. 

  Firstly, there is no database documenting how many households there are in the country and, as a consequence, in Roscommon county. That was admitted by the government at the time this charge was being mooted, but at best estimates there are in the region of 24,000 residences in the county. They say the compliance rate in Roscommon is 56% and if that figure is close to being correct then 14,000 people have paid the household charge – and 10,000 have not.

  But yet the government have seen fit to penalise Roscommon County Council by €1.7 million – or 17,000 houses. How could that make sense?

  It is also true to say that there was not one mention of this last December when the details of the household charge was being proposed and now councils all over the country are being told they have to change their budgets seven and eight months into a financial year, which is crazy.

  Then there is the timing of the announcement by the government. This came to light last Friday, the very day that the government and the Dail in general went on holidays for an eight-week break. So now councils are left to fend for themselves while Minister Hogan goes off on his holidays – and there is no-one to answer questions.

  It is also grossly unfair to penalise the councils without warning and it is a continuation of the arrogant, bullying and uncaring attitude taken by Minister Hogan to this whole issue, and to several more as well.

  To echo the words of one councillor at the meeting on Monday, if Minister Hogan thinks he has problems this year, wait until they try to bring in a property tax costing every household hundreds of euro next year.

  The whole household charge issue had been handled so very badly by the government and it is a total mess now. We have a situation where just over half the people have paid, and just under half the people have not paid. It’s a farce actually.


Controversial HAC vote 


I have been observing politics for many years. I have reported on it, written about it, broadcast many programmes about it – locally and nationally – and I have to say it never fails to shock and surprise me, because anything can happen in politics. 

  This week at Roscommon County Council’s monthly meeting there was a vote to elect a new chairperson for a Special Policy Committee. It’s not a major deal, and usually these things pass without any controversy. This week there were two candidates to replace Cllr. Tom Crosby as the chairperson of the particular SPC. 

  One was Independent Councillor John Murphy and the other was Fine Gael Councillor John Naughten. As it turned out the vote was tied at 13 each and the casting vote of the Mayor (Tom Crosby) gave the victory to Cllr. Murphy. But what was really significant is that the two Hospital Action Committee councillors, Valerie Byrne and Paula McNamara, voted for the Fine Gael candidate, John Naughten. 

  John Naughten is a very nice man and would make an excellent chairperson, but that is not the point. Throughout all the years I have been involved in this job I have never heard such anger and such shock and disappointment as I did after the closure of the A&E Unit at Roscommon County Hospital. It was one of the biggest stories locally in my memory – and there is still huge controversy over it.

 Such has been the anger with Fine Gael and the government that An Taoiseach Enda Kenny has not visited the county in an official capacity since (bar one brief appearance in Ballaghaderreen), while Gay Mitchell never campaigned here during the presidential election. 

  Deputy Denis Naughten and two Fine Gael Councillors, Domnick Connolly and Larry Fallon, also resigned from the party in protest as the closure. However this week the HAC have actually voted for Fine Gael at Roscommon County Council! 

  I know that Cllr. Murphy is accused by the HAC councillors of breaking a voting pact, but they could have abstained rather than supporting the party that they have slated and run into the ground at every opportunity since July of last year. 

  I tell you, I will never understand politics as long as I am in this job.


Support the Pink Ribbon Cycle 


The Pink Ribbon Cycle in aid of Breast Cancer Research takes place this Sunday in the Roscommon town area. If you can, please take part and support this very worthy fund-raiser. 

  The cycling ‘experts’ will start early while there is a family cycle a while later. If the weather co-operates it should be a very successful day. Details from: 086-8196062 or 087-1363186. 


The Anglo mess


Over the past few days we have seen the jailing of Sean Quinn’s son, and the arrest of three former executives of the former Anglo Irish Bank. While the legal system will have to run its course, there is a danger that we are concentrating too much on what happened in Anglo and letting others off the hook. 

  Yes, the investigation into the shameful behaviour at Anglo had to be carried out and hopefully those who were responsible for the Irish taxpayer being caught for €32 billion in that instance get what’s coming to them, however I hope that the other so-called high-fliers like Michael Fingleton and the many people who were responsible for reckless lending in the other banks are also brought to book. 

  There are people swanning around without a care in the world who were responsible for lending hundreds of millions of euro in the boom who should also be brought to book. What about the financial regulators who allowed it all to happen – and even Bertie Ahern and his cronies on whose watch it all happened?  

  It’s grand making scapegoats out of Sean Quinn and Anglo, but let everyone who had their noses in the trough pay a price for what they did. Reading Wednesday’s papers though, it is hard to have sympathy for any of these people. When you find out that members of the Quinn family have been paid hundreds of thousands of euro from companies in Russia over the past year, it is very hard to see their side of the story.


Denver tragedy and gun law 


The shooting tragedy in Denver in the USA last week was shocking, but just one of many such incidents that we see happening from time to time in that country. There are more guns than people in the USA and they are paying a very heavy price for that. 

  Every couple of years there is a major shooting tragedy and usually after these terrible incidents a few well-known people will put their heads above the parapet and call for more stringent gun laws – but nothing is done. 

  I remember being in the USA several years ago where you could go into a supermarket and buy a handgun as long as you could prove you were over 18. That can’t be right. It’s no wonder they have this problem.


The Olympics begin


This weekend the focus of the world will be on London for the Olympic Games and it’s reported as I write on Wednesday that there will be 22,000 media people in London to cover the Games. 

  While it will be a very British occasion, there are a lot of media people, athletes and tourists who are using Ireland as a base while the Games are on. There have been many Irish people involved in the preparations for the Games and many Irish people worked on the construction of the facilities, for example.  

  Security will be massive in London for the next three weeks and the problems that they had with G4S have been well documented. Let’s hope that the Games go off without any serious problems and that everyone who is there has a good time. This will never happen as close to us in Ireland again.



Issue dated: 27 JULY 2012
© Roscommon People