Thursday, April 23, 2009

NCT NUTS!!


First it was the provisional driving licences and now it seems to the be new penalty points for having no NCT cert - has Transport Minister Noel Dempsey any idea at all of what is going on in the outside world?

Just when we had almost forgiven him for trying to criminalise thousands of provisional driving licence holders with the stroke of a pen, it seems that Noel ‘D’oh’ Dempsey has pulled another crazy stunt.

Just last week, he announced that drivers are to receive five penalty points if the failed aspects of their NCT are not fixed within a month.

Fair enough, nobody wants faulty cars on the roads. But the Minister failed to do his homework and think about it before shooting his mouth off for a bit of free publicity.

You seen, it seems that drivers - eager to comply with the letter of the law - cannot actually book their tests.

Fine Gael’s Jimmy Deenihan said that the website for booking the NCT - www.ncts.ie - has crashed meaning that drivers cannot book online.

And he said the call centre set up to handle telephone bookings is so overloaded that callers are left holding for hours, often with nobody answering the call.

On Monday, Deputy Deenihan spent hours trying to get through to the number only to be kept on hold with, ultimately, nobody answering at the other end.

“Thousands of drivers are being left in the lurch by this latest screw up by the Government. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that putting in place the latest penalty pouints offences would have led to an increase in the numbers applying for the NCT,” he said.

“Instead, as is the way with this Government, zero planning was put into catering for the increase in demand with the result being that drivers cannot book tests.”

Zero planning - is this becoming a hallmark of this Government?

Zero planning for Ministerial pensions for sitting TDs? Zero planning for discontinuing long service increments? I see a pattern emerging here.

Pro Bono?


Brace yourself - the local and Euro elections are just around the corner and from here on in, expect to be inundated with promises, pledges, strokes and begging in return for votes on June 5.

While many candidates tend to blend into a boring shade of grey, it is refreshing to see one candidate with a novel idea for our times.

Step forward Limerick Consultant Radiologist Dr Alexander Stafford who is adopting a John F. Kennedy approach to civic duty - ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’.

Dr Stafford is the only Limerick person to be contesting the European elections and he is running as an Independent candidate.

Launching his campaign, one of his proposals is the adoption of a ‘Pro Bono Publico’ principle - to be undertaken by professionals not just in the health system, but across as many public and private sectors as possible.

He is also promoting the adoption of the ‘Pro Bono Publico’ principle to be undertaken by professionals not just in the health system, but across as many public and private sectors as possible.

This principle essentially means professional work being undertaken voluntarily and without payment as a public service for those who are unable to afford it and which is common in the US legal system.

“If both public and private sector professionals were willing, as I am, to give a mininum of 50 hours pro bono service per year (a minimum of one hour extra per week), this could significantly alleviate waiting lists and financial hardships for people,” he said.

Phelan gets bitchy!

Saucer of milk for young pup Senator John Paul Phelan, who proved this week that bitchiness is not just a woman’s game!!

Launching his campaign in Kilkenny, the young Euro hopeful compared Taoiseach Brian Cowen to a child playing monopoly!

“How could they (the Government) be so short sighted, so deaf to the warnings? Then it struck me - Monopoly. Brian Cowen must have learned all he knows about economics from playing monopoly as a child.”

“Ignore the utilities, forget about transport, raid the community chest, take a chance and get out of jail free, build as many houses as you can and then some hotels and you win the game.”

I’m sure that Brian Cowen must have been left thinking that young Phelan doesn’t have a ‘Cluedo’ to be engaging in such ‘Trivial Pursuits’!!

FG TV

As much as this column respects the great US President Barack Obama - he has a lot to answer for when it comes to our politicians trying to capture a bit of that ‘Yes We Can’ charisma.

Take Fine Gael, for example.

The party has had its share of difficulties trying to set up its spanking new website due to very close similarities with the BBC News website.

But one of the new segments on this site is the brand new FG TV!

Ah yes - if you tire of Questions & Answers, Nightly News with Vincent Browne, Coronation Street or Eastenders, at least you have FG TV to dive into.

And for your TV viewing pleasure this week - an interview with Senator Paschal Donohoe and if you are really a glutton for punishment, you can relive Enda Kenny’s Ard Fheis speech in a special, while knuckle, edge of your seat three-parter.

But only on FG TV.

Friday, April 17, 2009

King of the Tweets!


It seems that Green Party TD Ciaran Cuffe likes to make a twit of himself!!

Now, now - before you start wagging the finger at me, I mean it in ‘all the best possible taste’!!

Our little Green Soldier has taken a fondness to the new communication craze that is sweeping the world (but not me, obviously) Twitter!!

Barack Obama is twittering - or tweaking, according to some purists - so is Jonathan Ross and a host of other celebrities. Now Ciaran is a-tweaking.

But maybe he should think twice about where he is tweaking from.

It seems that while Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was delivering his fiscal mugging in the Dail chamber last week, Twittering Cuffe was busy with his mobile phone giving all of his followers an update on what was being lifted out of their wallets.

In case you are wondering, yes mobile phones are technically barred in the Dail chamber. But that hasn’t stopped some TDs from texting people or checking their emails.

Poor Olywn Enright was left seriously red-faced some time ago when an eagle-eyed viewer of Oireachtas Report spotted her texting on her mobile phone while in the Dail chamber and wrote a letter to a certain newspaper about it!

Just before the Budget speech began, Ciaran tweaked that his Green Pary Parliamentary Party meeting was over and he was heading down to the Dail chamber for ‘hopefully not too many surprises’!!

Not long later came the update via text - ‘Oops, press gallery seem to have Lenihan’s speech before we do’.

And then it was onto the finer detail - the doubling of the income levies, the termination of property-related accelerated capital allowance schemes in the health sector, the sitting up of NAMA etc.

To be perfectly fair to Ciaran, he wasn’t breaking any embargoes on the Budget speech by his twittering.

But the blatant use of a mobile phone in the Dail chamber is something that would even leave the fragrant Deputy Enright green - with envy!!

Scrooge Kills Santa

Staying on the subject of the budget - after all, it is all people are talking about - Labour’s MEP Proinsias de Rossa used some colourful language during the week to describe the Lenihan Lynching.

Writing on his blog, he said during the boom years some sections of society got used to the Minister for Finance walking into the Chamber on Budget Day ‘wearing a metaphorical Santa Claus beard and red coat, dispensing goodies for developers and investors’.

“Well, we knew that times had changed when Brian Lenihan walked into the Chamber looking like a man on his walk to the guillotine.”

“Rather than Santa Claus, Brian Lenihan did a passable imitation of Scrooge on a bad day, dipping into the pockets of low earners and non-earners, families and children as the Government attempts to pay for some of the excesses of budgets past and capping it all by canceling Christmas for the poor with his mean spirited cutting of the Christmas bonus,” he wrote.

One wonders, has Proinsias been reading too much Charles Dickens of late or are we really living in ‘Hard Times’??!!

Key of the Door for Lowry

We may all be levied to the hilt, but it is nice to see some people actually enjoying themselves - with good reason too.

My spies tell me that Independent TD Michael Lowry has come of age!!

The North Tipperary TD will mark his 21 years in Dail Eireann with a function in The Ragg in Thurles on Saturday night, April 18 next.

The guest speaker on the night will be none other than minister-turned-bookie-turned-talking head Ivan Yates.

No doubt, Ivan will be giving all present the best odds on how to escape this current economic belt-tightening relatively unscathed.

Batt-man Gets Wings!

It is nice to see that Martin Cullen’s little mishap with an Aer Corps helicopter in Killarney didn’t detract Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe from using the same mode of transport himself this week.

No matter how powerful Fianna Fail ministers think they are, they still haven’t mastered the art of bi-location, let alone tri-location.

So with three teachers conferences to address in the space of just 24 hours and with those conferences being as far afield as Donegal and Kerry, a little divine inspiration was needed!

So brushing aside any fears that he may have had about doors flying loose and falling into the Lakes of Killarney, Batt the Man jumped on board a helicopter to make the arduous journey from Donegal to Kerry in time to address the ASTI conference.

Thankfully, he had nothing to fear while in the air. It was only when he landed in Killarney that he had to become afraid, very afraid in fact.

But his date with the ASTI teachers passed off without incident. No shoes were thrown and Batt managed to escape unscathed.

Testing Tea-time for Teachers

The teachers may be claiming that their finances have taken a battering but these claims seems to have fallen on deaf ears - well, in Killarney at least.

The Malton Hotel in Killarney, where the ASTI conference is being held, obviously believe that the teachers are being paid a fortune - judging by the price it was charging for a pot of tea for two people in its Punchbowl Bar.

Brace yourself - €6.50 for tea for two. It is no wonder that the teachers are complaining that their finances have taken a battering when a pot of tea costs this much!!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

JP faces up to the Cat's Miaow!


Twelve years ago, he broke their hurling hearts but at the weekend, European election hopeful Senator John Paul Phelan was back at St Kieran’s College in his native Kilkenny on a very different mission.

The brave Senator – who only recently kicked off his Euro campaign - took time out of his canvass to ‘expand the minds’ of pupils at the school.

By expanding the minds, what the young Senator was really up to was explaining to them how local and European politics work as part of the Oireachtas Education Outreach Programme.

The 29 year-old south Kilkenny man was entering a lion’s den of sorts – well a cat’s den at the very least, as Senator Phelan was part of the Good Counsel College side which defeated St. Kieran’s in the Leinster Colleges hurling final of 1997.

On the losing side that day and togged out for St Kieran’s were now household names and hurling legends such as Henry Shefflin, Michael Kavanagh and many other greats.

“It’s fantastic to be here and to have an opportunity to explain to the second years at St Kieran’s how local, national and European governments work. You’re never too young to be involved in or get enthusiastic about politics,” he said, knowing that many of these students will soon have a vote!

“The students here will be the leaders of tomorrow and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest they have shown in the workings of government,” he said.

“I developed an interest in politics around the same age and I was very fortunate to be elected to Kilkenny County Council on my first attempt in June 1999.”

The second year students were tough opponents with hard-hitting questions for Senator Phelan and other politicians gathered in areas such as the future of e-voting machines, their expenses and the common quandary – Bertie or Brian!

Bang..... goes the Shamrock!!


If you are proud of our traditional shamrock, turn away now – put the paper down, because what I am about to reveal is likely to shock some sensitive souls.

After all the preparation and the big hurrah of presenting a bowl of shamrock to US president Barack Obama – his pesky Secret Service only went and destroyed the shamrock as soon as the ceremony was over!

Gone, kaput, up in a cloud of smoke went the shamrock that travelled all the way over from Ireland for the now-famous meeting of Offaly minds between President Obama and Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

And the reason?? It seems that no matter how important or influential you are, you can’t give the US President a present of food or floral gifts in case, you know, it were to contain something nasty.

So as soon as the President set the Waterford Crystal vase overflowing with bright green shamrock down on the table in the Roosevelt Room of the White House following the ceremony, his Secret Service agents jumped into action and whisked it away.

According to the Secret Service, the shamrock was ‘handled pursuant to secret service policy’ – in other words, it was destroyed!

No great worries however, if the shamrock given to George W. Bush in 2007 is anything to go by, it was only worth $5, according to a list released by the US State Department of gifts given to the President by foreign visitors.

Back in 2007, Bertie Ahern gave two pressies to Bush Junior – a ‘Waterford Crystal footed bowl with scalloped border and etched words of presentation’ and that was valued at $350.

And where is it? In the Foreign Archives warehouse in Washington.

The second pressie was the ‘live shamrocks’ – valued at $5!

Well at least a pressie of ‘live shamrock’ is a hell of a lot better than 36 Uruguayan herbal tea bags given to Laura Bush by the wife of the President of Uruguay!

It is even better than the ‘assortment of various nuts and dried fruit’ that the Dalai Lama gave to Mrs Bush!

Patriotic Duty? Talk to the wallet...

Retailers North of the boarder are rubbing their hands with glee at the thoughts of hoards of angry Irish shoppers coming their way.

It was something that the Government wanted to stop – Irish people being ‘unpatriotic’ by travelling a couple of miles up the road to save themselves a small fortune.

But thanks to the Lenihan Lynching on Tuesday, Irish people will have no choice but to get a greater bang for their buck.

As one caller to the Minister on the Pat Kenny Show on Wednesday morning said: “I will become a criminal rather than pay this Government any more in tax,” she said, capturing the mood of a nation in just one line.

Everyone is down a couple of hundred euro thanks to the size of our ‘Structural Deficit’ (a complicated term that simply means the mess left behind by bad political decisions).

And the simple result is people will vote with their feet and their wallets – and head up to Newry to fill their shopping trolleys.

The Government is attempting to reduce its costs and its spending to get its budgets in line.

So how dare they criticise those who are doing the same –families trying to reduce their costs and spending to get their budgets in line.

Financial Mumbo Jumbo

Over the past six months, the average person in the street has become an expert on banking and finance – it has been forced on them.

And with such knowledge comes a new language, full of clich├ęs and the only language that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is capable of speaking at this time.

‘Going forward’, ‘huge challenges’, ‘structural deficit’ etc are all phrases that we have found ourselves saying since Christmas.

So for the wordsmiths among you – a quick count of the Budget speech on Tuesday.

Lynchmaster Lenihan used the word ‘Economy’ 32 times, ‘Banks’ 12 times, ‘Fairness’ 11 times, ‘Levy’ ten times, ‘Crisis’ four times, ‘Tax’ and ‘Deficit’ three times and ‘Challenge’, ‘Fair’, Confidence’ and ‘Serious’ twice.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Time Stands Still in Government Buildings

It appears that time stands still in Government Buildings - despite
all the rock and rolling of the political scene over the past number
of months.

Visitors to the Haughey-inspired great Government Buildings on Merrion
Square are being left somewhat bemused by the official ‘Guide to
Government Buildings’ that is available to all who pass through its
doors.

The guide, available in a number of different languages, contains one
glaring error - it still has Bertie Ahern as our Taoiseach.

The guide even has a ‘Welcome to Government Buildings’ from Mr Ahern,
along with a photo that is at least 10 years old!

As readers of this column would know fine well, today marks the first
anniversary of Bertie Ahern’s long goodbye from the Taoiseach’s chair.

It was outside Government Buildings on April 2 that Bertie Ahern
caught the nation on the hop by announcing his resignation.

And so a year has gone by and it seems the powers that be in
Government Buildings are too busy to update their visitor literature.

The Mysterious Healy-Raes

What is the story with the once-powerful Healy-Rae political dynasty?

It was the patriarch of the clan, Jackie, that coined the now-famous
phrase ‘Independent Fianna Fail’. He may be Independent by name but he
is Fianna Fail by nature.

When the time comes for the Government to put its Emergency Budget to
the test in the Dail next week, it can be assured of Jackie’s vote.

But the sons of the father don’t appear to be that loyal to the
Government party down in their home turf of South Kerry.

Both Michael and Danny Healy-Rae are both campaigning for June’s local
elections to retain their seats on Kerry County Council.

But they are both campaigning as pure Independents - there isn’t a
sight of a Fianna Fail logo on any of their election literature.

Are they a new mould of Independent or are they trying to keep the
family links to Fianna Fail as low key as possible?

Fine idea from Fine Gael

As we have learned this week, Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings
can be quite the lively occasion.

Apart from the Battle of the Blondes (Kenny v Creighton), it seems
that some TDs are actually thinking outside the box when it comes to
getting their message across.

The Gold Star for this endeavour this week goes to South Kerry TD Tom
Sheahan for his suggestion to RTE bosses to fill the gap being left by
the demise of Q&A - a new series entitled ‘The Backbenchers’.

The programme, he believes, could be an excellent replacement for Q&A
and could feature selected backbenchers from the different parties -
as well as Senators - to give their tuppenceworth on the weekly
political events.

Now that Pat Kenny will be taking the helm of a new current affairs
show to replace Q&A, we will be sure to pass the suggestion on.

Miley Burton v Joan Cyrus

One is a teenage pop sensation and the other is the woman who has
proved to be a thorn in the side of Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan.

But the two - teen idol Miley Cyrus and Labour’s Joan Burton - became
unintentionally intertwined at the weekend due to computer gremlins.

Over 15,000 Miley Cyrus fans got a bit of a shock when they logged
onto the internet on Saturday afternoon expecting to see a live
performance by their teen idol - instead they were faced with Joan
Burton talking about the economy!

For the first year ever, the Labour Party decided to stream its party
conference on ustream.tv so that Labour supporters all over the world
(I am assured there are some) could tune in.

But due to a technical glitch, it seems that the Miley Cyrus concert
got mixed up with Joan’s dulcid tones.

The tweenies in the US certainly got a shock - but it was nothing
compared to the shock some old Labour geezers got when they logged on
to see Miley Cyrus prancing around the place instead of their own Red
Rose, Joan Burton!!

Summertime...... and the livin' is easy!

It is nice to see a politicians trying to bring a bit of sun and
summer into our lives at a time of such doom and gloom.

Take a bow Fine Gael’s David Stanton, who wants Ireland to start
putting its clocks back to ‘summertime’ earlier in the year with the
effect that summer would start sooner.

He said if the clocks were to be moved forward to allow summertime to
begin three weeks earlier, ‘we would still enjoy bright mornings but
would really benefit from an hour’s extra daylight in the evenings for
sport and recreation’.

“In the US, changes to the summertime period were made whereby
‘summer’ was extended by four weeks, with the clocks being brought
forward weeks earlier in the spring and moved back a week in Autumn.”

“The energy savings were substantial and, in my opinion, would merit a
similar move in Ireland,” he said.

At last - a suggestion that does lift the spirits.