Motions
1. That the Committee receive an update on the report issued by Kildare County Council to the Department of the Environment, Community & Local Government regarding conditioning of the blended water supply.
2. That the Committee receive an update on the network project stage of the new Kildare Town wastewater treatment system.

Questions
1. Can the Committee receive an update on The Paddocks estate, Kildangan?
2. Can the Committee receive a progress report on the link road through Rathbride Abbey?
3. Can the Committee receive a report on the proposed playground in Rathangan?

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Hi everyone – I’ve recently acquired http://www.tonyodonnell.ie and I am moving my blog to blog.tonyodonnell.ie. I have copied all of the content from here to the new site, and I will be making posts from here on out to the new site. This one will remain for posterity – but new content will only be available at the new site.

If you have a blog roll entry or an RSS feed to Achem’s Blunt One – please point it to the new location.

Tony

 

Almost 40 years ago, on January 28 1970, Fine Gael TD Gerard Sweetman was killed in a road traffic accident outside Monasterevin. To mark this approaching anniversary, Cill Dara Historical Society invited local Fine Gael activist Tony O’Donnell to deliver their March lecture on “The Life & Times of Gerard Sweetman”.

Hugh Gerard Sweetman was born on June 10, 1908 to a comfortably well-off Dublin family. His father James Sweetman was a praciticing barrister, and the family’s return for the 1911 census shows that they enjoyed the presence of three servants at their Lower Baggot Street home.

The Sweetmans were no strangers to Irish politics. A relative of James, Roger Sweetman was elected to the First Dáil representing Wexford North, and was one of the first TDs to publicly call for a negotiated settlement to the Irish War of Independence.

Gerard was educated at the Beaumont School in Britain, which may go some way towards describing his particularly un-Kildare accent. He completed his studies at UCD and went on to qualify as a solicitor in 1930.

The 1930s were a time of great change in Irish politics. The State had been firmly established during the tumult of the 1920s, and the decade that followed saw the peaceful change of power to FF, and the latter half brought forward a new constitution for our young democracy.

Three weeks after his 29th birthday, Gerard Sweetman contested his first General Election on July 1, 1937. His target was the old four-seater Carlow-Kildare constituecy. At the time, the constituency was represented by Labour leader William Norton, two Fianna Fáil deputies Harris and Humphreys, and outgoing Fine Gael TD Captain Sydney Minch of the famous Athy family. Out of a field of 7 candidates, Sweetman came sixth with 8.5% of the vote.

This would not be his only electoral disappointment. Having skipped the June 1938 election, Sweetman ran again in 1943, and once again failed to secure election. He secured a Seanad seat in weeks that followed, and remained in the upper house through the 1944 election, until finally, with the creation of a separate Kildare constituency, he won a Dáil seat in 1948.

The 1948 election returned the first inter-party government under Taoiseach John A. Costello. This coalition represented an ‘anybody-but-Fianna-Fáil’ gathering from across the political spectrum, and the newest Kildare TD sat on the backbenches until the government fell in 1951.

After a brief FF return to power, a second inter-party government took office in June 1954 with Sweetman promoted to Minister for Finance.

He was just 35 years old, and he inherited a national economy that was in crisis. Unemployment was at 421,000; over 100,000 people had left agriculture during the previous 8 years; the country was seeing a level of emigration unknown since the famine; and the very viability of an economically independent Ireland was at stake.

Sweetman differed in his thinking from the staid protectionist policies espoused by DeValera since the 1930’s. Rather than focussing on a self-sufficient Ireland, Sweetman enacted policies that would make Ireland a net exporter.

In his first budget in 1955, he introduced a thoroughly modern scheme whereby a tax exemption was provided for exported goods. He also established the prize bonds programme as a means of covering the national debt.

This debt was every bit as worrying in the mid-50s as it is for our leaders today. Two major bond issues were placed during Sweetman’s tenure for £20 million and £12 million. These were huge sums at a time when an average worker entered the tax net with an annual salary of just £533.

However, Sweetman’s greatest initiative as Minister was the appointment of another young man of talent and vision. On May 30, 1956 he elevated a 39 year old civil servant named Ken Whittaker to the position of Secretary General of the Department of Finance. This was a revolutionary step, as it did not follow the convention of promotion based on time served.

Whittaker’s time at the Department has been seen as absolutely instrumental in the economic development of the country, indeed a 2001 RTÉ contest named him ‘Irishman of the 20th Century’.

Whittaker was inherited by the new FF government elected in 1957, and his seminal “First Programme for Economic Expansion” published in 1958 laid the foundations for the first Celtic Tiger of the 1960s.

Sadly for Sweetman, this brief period of Government was not to be repeated and he would remain in opposition for the rest of his life.

During the 1960’s, Fine Gael itself witnessed a major transformation. The decade began with new leader, James Dillon, and a renewed focus on making the party relevant.

This internal revolution culminated in the ‘Just Society’ document produced by Declan Costello. The distinctly social democrat flavour of the document was very much at odds with Sweetman’s deeply conservative views. However, the support of future Taoisigh Liam Cosgrave and Garret FitzGerald ensured that the document was adopted as the party’s manifesto for the 1965 election.

In his last election, in June 1969, Sweetman was again returned to the Dáil for the 7th successive term. His party colleagues on the ticket for that election included Nancy Moore, mother of Christy, and Kildare Town’s own Michael McWey.

The election left only a handful of seats between FF and the opposition, and Fine Gael and Sweetman must have sensed a return to Government was only inches beyond their grasp. Indeed history proved them right, as the National Coalition of Labour and Fine Gael swept to power in 1973. He would surely have been at the very highest levels of cabinet, had fate not intervened in Janaury 1970.

He was known for his high speed style of driving, and this was to prove his undoing. January 28 1970 was a long day, which began with a return from a business meeting on the continent. On returning to Ireland, he had travelled down to Silvermines in Tipperary for another business meeting, and it was on the return journey that he tragically lost control of his vehicle near Monasterevin.

Speaking at the first session of the Dáil that followed, Taoiseach Jack Lynch offered a sincere and moving tribute to the late Deputy. He spoke of a TD who ‘commanded respect and attention’, especially in matters of finance; a ‘gifted parliamentarian who loved the cut-and-thrust of debate’ and who was as ‘fair an opponent as he was formidable’. And perhaps most tellingly, he noted a career tragically cut short.

‘Through his tragic and untimely death Dáil Éireann and Irish public life have suffered a grievous loss. That loss will be felt all the more becuase of his great impact on, and contribution to, Irish political life’.

There is no doubt that Lynch’s words ring as true today as they did in early 1970. Gerard Sweetman had a fundamental impact on modern Ireland, and he will be long remembered in County Kildare and beyond.

The recently published Live Register figures for February provide more gloom for Kildare, according to Fine Gael’s Tony O’Donnell.

The numbers for the county break down as follows:

                                                Jan 09  Feb 09  Change  %Change
Athy                   Kildare   1968    2075         107     5.4%
Maynooth        Kildare    4188    4591         403     9.6%
Newbridge       Kildare    7123    7762        639     9.0%

And for the county:

                      Kildare   13279   14428   1149    8.7%

“The mid-Kildare jobless figure has grown by over 150 a week in the month of February. This comes on top of over 900 newly redundant people signing on for the first time in January.

“It would be all too easy to look at the statistics, and forget that every number is a person whose life has been turned upside down and who faces a very uncertain future.

“Kildare is particularly exposed. Many of the newly unemployed are young people who moved to the county during the boom years. They have hefty mortgages and young families. Over the last few years, they have worked hard, put in long hours and endured gridlocked commutes.

“This hectic lifestyle has sadly meant that they weren’t able to integrate fully into their communities. At times of crisis, communities are a vital social safety net. Without them, people can feel isolated and alone.

“In the current climate, it is unlikely that the State will be able to step in to meet this shortfall. I would encourage people to recognise that their neighbours may have hit hard times, and to look out for one another. I would also encourage anyone who finds themselves unemployed to look around at the local community and voluntary sector for support while they plan the next stage in their lives.

“In addition, I hope that Minister Hanafin recognises the continuing stress that these increases in the Live Register place on the staff in the local welfare offices. My colleague Mark Stafford has already highlighted the enormous pressure that the Newbridge office is under, and the inevitable delays that this causes.

“It is vital that Ms Hanafin continues to redirect staff to where they are most needed – in the frontline providing efficient access to benefits and supports.”

The Minister for Social & Family Affairs has been unable to provide projections for the growth in numbers set to sign on in Newbridge in 2009.

In response to a parliamentary question submitted on behalf of local Fine Gael candidate Tony O’Donnell, Ms Hanafin’s office was unable to provide any detail on the expected growth in numbers of new cases or on any contingency plans her department has made to provide additional frontline staff.

“The Newbridge welfare office is under severe pressure,” explains O’Donnell. “In January alone there was a 15% increase in the numbers signing on in Newbridge, with over 200 new cases a week being processed. This is the fifth highest increase in the country. The February figures are out today, and it is likely that they will hold further bad news.

“Through Leo Varadkar TD, I made a request to Minister Hanafin asking for her projections for 2009 and information on the provision of additional staff to deal with an expected growth in numbers. Her response that ‘it is not possible to make predictions with any degree of accuracy on the future loss of employment either nationally or in specific areas of the country’ is not good enough.

“I have spoken to staff in the office, and they advise me that this rate of increase could continue throughout the year. This presents an appalling vista for unemployment in mid-Kildare.

“While planning has not been a strongpoint of this Government over the last 12 years, it is absolutely vital that they prepare figures for the year ahead so that additional staff can be provided promptly to the Newbridge office to cope with this demand.

“Losing your job is tough enough without the added stress of delayed benefits.”

ENDS

Notes
The January live register figures for Newbridge were as follows:

Dec 08 6184
Jan 09 7123
Change 939
%Change  15.2%

The PQ and answer submitted to the Minister were as follows:

Question No:  318                                                                               Ref No: 8732/09
To the Minister for Social and Family Affairs

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her Department has prepared projections for the number of new cases to be processed by the Newbridge social welfare office in 2009; the details of these projections; if any additional front-line staff are to be provided to cover for expected increases in demand; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

– Leo Varadkar.

*    For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 3rd March, 2009.
REPLY

The Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Hanafin TD)

Many commentators have expressed varying estimates as to the numbers on the Live Register over the coming year.  However, it is not possible to make predictions with any degree of accuracy on the future loss of employment either nationally or in specific areas of the country.
 
Even where it is known that there is to be a loss or reduction in employment in a particular area, this does not necessarily imply that the applications for a jobseekers payment will all fall to a particular local office. This would be particularly true in the Dublin area where a closure in one particular company could impact on claimloads in any of the Dublin offices or on offices in the surrounding counties or even further afield.

During the past year an additional 8 staff have been assigned to the local office in Newbridge and a further 2 staff were recruited on a temporary contract with effect from 2nd March.

 

Candidates Martin Heydon and Tony O'Donnell

Candidates Martin Heydon and Tony O'Donnell

A belated well done to FG candidate Martin Heydon on his excellent campaign launch last Friday.

Martin is running for Kildare County Council in the newly expanded Athy LEA, and I am sure everyone in Fine Gael wishes him all the best. Hopefully the party ticket of Cllr Billy Hillis, Cllr Richard Daly and Martin will deliver a big result on June 5th!

In the wake of Dublin Bus announcing the withdrawl of the 90 and 91 routes last week, there has been a positive change for Kildare commuters.

In an email issued today by the area manager for the routes, the company have announced that the 90 will be retained for weekday morning services up to 10am. They also commit to an enhanced 92 service running every 15 minutes up to around 8pm. This does mean a reduction in service choice, especially in the evenings and weekends, but it is a big improvement on what was initially announced.

Here’s the content of the email:

Dublin Bus has no plans to cancel the morning 90 service from Heuston and we will operate the first bus on route 90 at 0645hrs and then every 15 minutes to 10.00am  Monday to Friday.

In addition route 92, serving Heuston to St. Stephens Green via D’Olier street  will operate every 15 minutes through the day from 0710 until 1950 – the return service on this route will operate throughout the day at 15 minute frequency – last departure from Wilton Terrace at 1955hrs.

There has been very little demand for the return service on route 90 and customers can avail of the enhanced route 92 as described above. Dublin Bus are confident that the service pattern described above will cater for travel demands. 

This is welcome, but it does leave some remaining issues around season ticket holders who hold passes including the feeder buses.

The Kildare Rail Users Group will be keeping an eye on the new system to see how it performs for commuters.