Cunningham welcomes regeneration plans for Ballycastle

30 07 2012

 

 

SDLP Ballycastle Councillor Dónal Cunningham has welcomed the efforts aimed at boosting the flagging vitality of the towns and villages of Moyle and has called for greater community involvement in regeneration measures.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with representatives from the Departments of Social Development (Urban regeneration) and DOE Planners, he said:

“We need to return Ballycastle Town Centre to a position where it plays a key role in the economic and social fabric of the community acting as both a centre of employment and services as well as a focus for civic activity.

“We need to support our local businesses through these challenging economic times and to address the issue of empty shops and units.

“Local government and departments cannot act alone, we need to involve and support community and business leaders to regenerate and grow the town. We need a strong community focus, working on making the town more vibrant, and developing and improving the aesthetics of the town.

 “Ballycastle has a huge amount to offer, visitors are impressed by our beautiful streetscape, unfortunately the economic climate has particularly hit our retail trade and many shops are now unoccupied. It is important that we work to strengthen our competitiveness and develop connected, cohesive and engaged communities – communities that can identify their own needs and work with government and others in meeting those needs.”





Moyle SDLP Councillors call on North Antrim sheep farmers to be vigilant

30 07 2012

SDLP Moyle District Councillors Catherine McCambridge and Dónal Cunningham have called on sheep farmers to remain alert to the danger of theft.
The councillors were speaking following the recent sheep thefts in the wider North Antrim area.

Cllr McCambridge said: “It would certainly appear that a degree of local knowledge is being used in these thefts; it appears to be a well-orchestrated activity carried out by people who know the area and know exactly what they were doing”.

Cllr Cunningham added: “We would appeal to sheep farmers and everyone in rural areas to be careful and to report any suspicious activity.”





Decision to close First Trust Ballycastle branch “disgraceful”

27 07 2012

Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has strongly criticized First Trust for their proposed decision to close their local Ballycastle branch.
The announcement that the branch will close at the end of business on November 9 this year came after a comprehensive review of branch usage.

Cllr Cunningham said: “This is a disgraceful decision which puts profits ahead of local services.

“I will be asking for an urgent meeting to make a case for the Ballycastle branch.

“As a local council, we have been trying to improve services in Ballycastle so it is a shame to see a bank try and undo some of that good work.

“The closure will mean customers have to travel to Coleraine for their next nearest branch.

“While two other major banks – Northern and Ulster – have branches in Ballycastle, this is a blow for all customers, particularly those who have mobility problems.

“Not everyone is able to use internet or telephone banking, so this announcement will disadvantage them.”





Gilmore:Tribute to John Hume – Reflecting on the progressive agenda

26 07 2012

Speech by Eamon Gilmore TD
Leader of the Labour Party, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School, Glenties, Co Donegal.

I am delighted to be here again in Glenties, and to have the opportunity to present this lecture in honour of John Hume.

Through a lifetime of work, determination, courage, persistence and vision, John Hume, more than most, has shaped the Ireland in which we live today.

I am particularly pleased to be asked to give the 2012 John Hume lecture, since this year marks the centenary of the foundation of the Labour Party.

It is fitting, in a year of celebration and reflection for Labour, that I should pay tribute to a man who for many years led our sister party in Northern Ireland, the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

A man who stood courageously for the core labour values of civil rights, equality and peaceful democratic politics.

The theme of this year’s proceedings here in Glenties, is ‘reforming and rebuilding our state’.

Throughout the 100 years of our existence, reforming and rebuilding Ireland is and always has been the Labour Party’s mission.

Reform not for its own sake, but reform for the purpose of building a better and fairer society

As Labour celebrates its centenary, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on how the progressive agenda stands today, and more importantly what the progressive priorities are for the future.

Last Wednesday afternoon I attended a meeting of the Government’s economic management council.

The EMC, as it is known, consists of myself and the Taoiseach, Michael Noonan the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin.

This group meets every week, together with senior officials, to discuss key economic issues, and the strategic management of the economic crisis. The EMC is itself a reform – a new way of doing joined up Government across Departments and Institutions.

A new way of decision making in a coalition Government.

A new way to make key economic decisions at the heart of Government.

What struck me about last Wednesday in particular, was how different the tone of the meeting was, compared to some of the EMC meetings that we had in the first few months of the life of this Government.

In those early days, the crisis that we faced was existential.

There were days when I feared for the financial survival of the State. Today, while the problems we face are still grave, we are in a much stronger position.

Following agreement at the European summit on Ireland’s bank debt, and given the progress that we have made on a number of core economic issues – including a significant stimulus package – our prospects of economic recovery have been substantially improved.

No one doubts that there are still difficulties to confront.

No one doubts that the true test of progress is the creation of jobs and improving the situation of those thousands of families in Ireland who have been profoundly affected by the crisis. But we now have a far stronger platform on which to build.

The core task of this Government is to deal with the deep economic crisis that we inherited, and to build a sustainable economic recovery.

It is our clear and stated aim, to restore financial stability, to renew growth, and above all, to create jobs.

To restore our economic sovereignty, by exiting the EU/IMF programme.

As Leader of the Labour Party, it is clear to me that these are the first priorities for any progressive agenda.

But this is also a Government of Reform.

Determined that this moment of crisis will also be a genuine turning point.

One of my abiding memories of John Hume is from late 1993, when he was moved to tears at the funeral of the victims of the Greysteel Massacre.

It was one of the darkest moments of the troubles – a low point of sectarianism that threatened to drown the tentative moves towards peace.

But it was also a turning point

– a moment when people saw the vital necessity of dialogue.

That dark and difficult time was almost 20 years ago.

The Ireland we live in today is virtually unrecognisable.

The troubles as we knew them are at an end.

We have a functioning power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Ministers from North and South of the border meet regularly in a North-South Ministerial Council to discuss matters of common interest.

And the visit of Queen Elizabeth has opened a whole new chapter in the relationship between Ireland and Britain, which was subsequently documented in the joint statement of the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Cameron.

Who would have thought that any of this was possible only twenty years ago?

Twenty years ago, homosexuality was effectively illegal in the republic, and divorce was banned by the Constitution.

Today, we live in a far more open and tolerant Ireland, where we have civil partnerships for gay couples and the question of full marriage equality is being put to a constitutional convention.

What is so striking about these examples, is the contrast between looking back and looking forward.

Events of 20 years ago can seem like they only happened yesterday.

Looking forward twenty years into the future can seem like peering into a dim and distant haze.

The future always seems further away than the past. And yet we can see that from great moments of crisis, can also come great change, if we have a vision of what we want to achieve, and the determination and courage to pursue it.

Let us ask ourselves this question:

If we are to look back on this moment in twenty years time, what is it that we want to have achieved?

Whether it be the 120th anniversary of the Labour party, or the 120th anniversary of 1916, will we be able to able to say that this was a reforming generation? That we made a lasting impact on the course of Irish history?

The answer to that question, will depend, not on the specifics of any one policy, or the technicalities of any one reform.

It will depend on our capacity to deal both with the immediate problems of today, and to address the great issues of today and tomorrow (and in some cases of yesterday too).

It will depend on our capacity to recognise that reforming and rebuilding our state, is not a goal in itself, but a means to building a society that better serves its people.

It will depend, not simply on the actions of Governments, but on the willingness of individuals both to embrace and work for change. Hume’s vision of an Ireland at peace, with mutual respect for, and by, its different traditions could not have been achieved without the consent of the people.

Neither could the massive social changes of the past two or three decades.

Reforming and rebuilding the state is not, therefore, just an exercise in constitutional amendment, the changing of laws or the remaking of institutions.

These elements are, of course, important, but they are actions located in a changing economic and social context, and their real significance can only be appreciated or evaluated over a longer period of time.

That is why we have to approach the task of reforming and rebuilding, not by trying out something new in the hope that it will work 20 years from now, but to place ourselves 20 years forward and to look back to the present so that we can make the right decisions to remake the Ireland we want to see in 20 years time.

This inevitably involves the making of political choices about the future of our society and those choices go far beyond the institutional.

Reforming and re-building the State can not happen in isolation from the great changes that are taking place in the world around us. At times of crisis, it is all too easy to turn inwards.

To focus on repairing what was broken at home.

But failing to prepare for what is happening beyond our own horizons is like fixing the ceiling while ignoring that the house is missing a roof, or that a new housing estate is being developed all around us.

We can no longer think of reform and rebuilding this State as a purely domestic project.

Our state does not stand in splendid isolation.

We have, as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, a developing set of relationships, some of them institutional, with Northern Ireland and with Britain.

We are an integrated part of a changing European Union, and we share a currency with sixteen other states.

We share a world where economics is global, communications are instant, and we have common concerns about peace, security, energy, environment and climate.

Today the European Union spreads from the Atlantic coast of Connemara to the Black Sea.

In 20 years time, will the EU’s border stretch to the Russian steppes?

Today, we are a Union of 27 member states.

20 years from now that number could be closer to 40.

Ireland was a member state when there were only nine.

How are we, as a small state, to exercise our influence and leadership in a much bigger and more populous Union?

Ireland’s Presidency of the EU at the beginning of next year will be crucial, as we are unlikely to occupy that role again for at least 14 years.

Our chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (the OSCE), is also important in this context as it enables us to provide leadership, in an international organisation which is important to aspiring EU member states.

The context is not even confined to Europe. Economically many believe that this will be the Asian century.

That is why we are putting a new emphasis on our political and trade relationship with the countries of Asia, including China.

The visit to Ireland by the Chinese Vice Premier earlier this year was hugely important, as was the subsequent visit by the Taoiseach and the signing of a Strategic Partnership Agreement between China and Ireland.

If Asia is the new economic power in the early decades of the 21st century, then Africa is the coming continent.

Seven of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa.

Africa can go from being a net food importer today, to feeding a growing world population. Some world powers, especially China, already recognise this.

Ireland is uniquely placed to develop a thriving relationship with the African continent.

We carry no colonial baggage, and we have built a relationship for friendship and respect in Africa through our Development Aid Programme and right back to the work of our missionaries.

We can build on this, which is why last year we launched our Africa Strategy charting the progress we can make from Aid to Trade.

That is why I will be travelling to East Africa later this week, to pursue that strategy further.

And what does a growing global population mean for finite resources? Global commodity prices are rising, having fallen steadily during the 20th century.

Now, if the only way is up (and it’s not certain that it is), will scarcity be the mother of invention, or of tension?

One thing that is certain, will be the globalisation of the drive to reduce greenhouse gases.

Following Durban last December, the clock is ticking on agreeing a binding deal on carbon reduction by 2015, coming into force by 2020.

In 20 years time the oil race will have become its opposite. The race to decarbonise economic growth is already underway. The future rests with those countries who, like Ireland can produce large amounts of renewable energy. Twenty years from now we will really value the fact that 90% of this county’s territory is the sea and ocean around us. The national maritime policy which has just been completed by the Government, is the blueprint for the re-building of this State, not just as 26 counties of land, but of our vast, and resource rich maritime area as well.

Since the Great Famine, and before it, the economy of Ireland has not, for any sustained period of time, provided a secure and sustainable living for all the people of Ireland.

On any analysis of Irish economic performance over a century or more, forced emigration stands out as our greatest failing. And yet we should and do have the resources, the knowledge, the skills and the capacity to build an economy here that provides good and sustainable jobs for our people.

We can build an export-led, knowledge driven economy, that is connected to the main sources of global economic growth.

We should never again allow ourselves to become dependent on any one sector, or any one market, and certainly not on the domestic property sector.

In the 21st century Ireland must connect itself to the economic opportunities that are emerging in the east, and in Africa.

When we look back on this moment in 20 years time, we should see this as a time when Ireland re-assessed its position in the global trading system.

When we made a long term and strategic decision to build relationships in new and emerging economies, including China. Relationships that complement, rather than replace, our existing markets in Europe, and America.

Three times since the Second World War– in the 1950s, the 1980s, and in the last decade, bad economic management in Ireland has led to economic stagnation.

We cannot go on like this.

The lessons of the crisis have to be learned, not least because it is working people who suffer most in recession, through loss of jobs and lower living standards.

A small open economy has to manage its public finances prudently and with a far greater eye to long term sustainability. That is a lesson that the Nordic social democratic economies learned decades ago.

In passing the European Stability Treaty, we have adopted a set of rules which will provide for better management of our affairs.

We have established a Fiscal Advisory council to cast an independent eye over forecasts and budgets. And, critically, the European Union has decided to establish a banking union, so that the regulation of banking, and the costs of banking failures, will in future be managed on a collective European basis.

This must be the moment when we break out of the cycle of economic crises.

For the sake of the children born this year, who will be approaching college graduation 20 years from now, and seeking employment.

We all know the phrase from the 1916 Proclamation about the Republic cherishing all the children of the nation equally.

Too often in our recent past, those words have been a reproach to us, rather than an inspiration.

Too many times, as a state, we have failed our children.

In this too, the present crisis must be a watershed. This Government is engaged in a major programme of reform of how we deliver children’s services.

But we must also bring about lasting change.

Now is the time to amend our Constitution to provide for the protection and rights of our children, and the Government is determined to bring forward a referendum to that end in the autumn.

The men and women who founded the Labour Party came from thatched cottages and tenement slums. They were born into a world where the circumstances of your birth very often dictated the horizons of your life.

No-one can say that, in the past fifty years, economic progress in Ireland has not brought social progress. Since the 1960s, the educational revolution has opened up opportunity across our society. Like many others, I was a beneficiary of those changes.

But we have more to do.

Even today, too many of our children have their lives defined by the limitations of their family circumstances. We must ensure that the economy that we build from this crisis, is one that offers greater opportunities for all of our people.

The changes that we are making in education, through a new national literacy strategy, and in reforming the curriculum for Junior Certificate are absolutely fundamental to that agenda.

The Government is working hard to reform the system of training and welfare support to ensure that people have a wider range of skills and opportunities.

Then there are the other hallmarks of a modern, progressive country, such as access to medical care based on need, not income.

Ireland is something of a rarity in developed European countries in having an up-front charge of €50 or more to visit a GP.

This is the first Government in the history of the State that has pledged to introduce universal health insurance.

It’s ambitious.

It will take time.

But we can do it if we take it step by step, redirecting a small fraction of the €14 billion Health budget to lower that bar, incentivising people to get treated earlier by their GP, and so freeing up more expensive hospital time.

My colleague Roisin Shortall has already done enormous work in the area of primary care, and the first phase of GP care without fees for patients with some chronic illnesses is set to be introduced this year.

And the recently announced stimulus package provides finance for the first phase of the primary health care centres.

Of course, progress goes beyond what can be measured by income, or by the number of people in third level, or life expectancy.

It is not just about what we achieve collectively, but also about how, as a society, we allow individuals to flourish.

The freedom they enjoy to pursue their own good, their own way.

Ireland today is very different from the Ireland of 20 years ago, but there is still some road to travel before we can say that ours is a republic that treats its citizens, regardless of their faith or their sexual orientation, equally.

Now is the time to build a new relationship between Church and State in Ireland, based on mutual understanding and respect, but also on the primacy of personal freedom.

For many people, when we speak of reforming and rebuilding our state, we are essentially talking about politics.

If, as many people believe, politics failed us before the crisis, can we construct something better?

We have to look at this issue at a number of levels.

We can, as the Government is doing, tighten the laws on political funding and political corruption.

We can, and will through the Constitutional Convention, examine our voting system to see if we can improve on our present constitutional arrangements.

But on another level, you cannot legislate for honesty, and no matter what voting system you have, the outcomes will reflect our broader political culture.

That culture is changing, not least because of the revolution that is happening in how and where we get our news, with the internet and social media making news more immediate.

A growing number of people are no longer buying newspapers and are getting their news online. Twenty years from now, will newspapers as we know them still exist? Where will people turn for reliable information and commentary?

How will people be sure that the information that they are getting is accurate, or that commentary is reflective rather than reactive. Edmund Burke has been credited with being the first person to refer to the press as the fourth estate – not part of the State, but essential to it.

We need a free media that will hold Government and other institutions to account.

We need a media that will provide for fair and balanced debate, but the only thing we can be certain of, is that the media will look radically different in twenty years time.

Our world is changing.

It is far more integrated and inter-dependent.

More and more, our daily lives are, and will be, influenced by events and trends beyond our borders.

Our young people, in particular, see themselves as citizens of the globe.

But what kind of global citizen does Ireland want to be?

20 years ago, Mary Robinson moved us all with the tears that she shed for the people of Somalia.

Today, once again, famine stalks the horn of Africa.

One thing that we can be proud of in how we have managed this crisis, is that, as a country, we have kept faith with the world’s poorest people.

We have managed to sustain our aid effort, and our engagement in development co-operation, especially in Africa.

Of course, there are also benefits to Ireland in what we do – we will, over time, see maturing ties of trade, as well as aid. As a result of our history we can identify with those affected by what is still one of the world’s greatest ills – hunger, and nutrition is a strong focus of our aid programme.

None if what I have outlined here is impossible.

Progress is something that is in our own hands.

In many areas, it is already happening.

When we think of reforming and rebuilding our state, we inevitably come back to political and institutional architecture.

Perhaps it is only in 20 years time that we will appreciate the massive reform and rebuilding agenda which this Government is undertaking.

A Constitutional Convention, dominated not by experts and politicians, but two-thirds of those members will be individual citizens chosen at random

We will hold a referendum to decide whether we have one parliamentary chamber or two and whether we should have a Senate at all

We are reducing the membership of Dail Eireann at a time when our population is increasing

We are planning the biggest reform of local government since the 1890s

We are undertaking a major overhaul of public bodies as part of the biggest reform of our public services, driven by a dedicated Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

We are undertaking a major change in the way state companies are managed through the creation of NewEra

And there are many more examples.

20 years from now, some these changes will stand out more than others.

It would not surprise me if the one which is most valued 20 years from now is the decision we recently made to establish a State Water Utility to manage our water resources.

Water may be the great resource issue of the 21st century, and to deal with that challenge we have decided to establish a water utility that will keep water in public ownership and provide finance for it.

I am hopeful for our future.

I believe that Ireland is a good country, with enormous reserves of talent, determination and grit. Our economy will recover.

But it is not enough simply to put the pieces back together again.

We must build something better and new.

This crisis can be a turning point.

We can build a new and better Ireland.

If, like John Hume, we have vision, and courage, determination and tenacity.

Not just politicians, or the Government, but every one of us.

Thank you.





Cunningham supports efforts for Hope Centre outreach in Ballycastle.

22 07 2012

Speaking after attending an information event hosted by Moyle Policing and Community Safety Partnership which dealt with the services and support available for individuals and families dealing with drugs and alcohol misuse, Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has welcomed the interest shown by the HOPE Centre Ballymena around the creation of an outreach service for the Ballycastle area.

 Moyle PCSP of which Councillor Cunningham is a member has made a commitment to place these issue high on their agenda and to be available to listen and note specific concerns raised about the negative impact drugs/alcohol are having on specific communities or neighbourhoods.

Councillor Cunningham stated“The Hope Centre is a paramount and indispensable service to drug and alcohol misusers and their families within the North Antrim area; it does a very valuable job”

“It has developed a very high level of expertise in a very difficult area.

“I have nothing but admiration and respect for its achievements.

“The drugs and alcohol problems are very real. They have to be tackled on many fronts, and that includes the rehabilitation of those who have been through abuse alongside support for their families. I welcome and support their efforts to provide an outreach centre in Ballycastle”





Environmental institute calls for impact assessments on fracking

21 07 2012

 

Irish Times Article 21 July 2012

FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor

FULL PUBLIC consultation on “fracking” shale gas is needed so the planning process can “move forward in an open and transparent way”, according to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health for Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee has been briefed by the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network on shale gas exploration. Further meetings with prospective developer Tamboran Resources are expected in the coming weeks.

The institute said there was a need for a wider public debate as the controversial method of extracting gas from shale rock, commonly known as fracking, has generally relied on “a solution of potentially toxic chemicals” to break up rock and release the gas.

Institute director Gary McFarlane said a cautious approach must be adopted and, while it was not “anti-fracking”, there was “insufficient current evidence to confirm that all the potential risks can be suitably reduced or managed within acceptable levels”.

While it was not yet clear what the downsides of fracking might be, he warned that the chemicals used “could contaminate freshwater drinking supplies” and that there were “well-documented concerns that drilling and extraction have led to minor earthquakes”.

Mr McFarlane called for detailed environmental and health impact assessments, with a full public consultation, before any licences for commercial exploitation were considered.

“We need to learn lessons from existing experiences and design systems that are safe,” he said.

The North’s Minister of the Environment Alex Attwood has stressed that there would be no headlong rush into fracking, due to the need to get the right balance between a potential major economic boost and possible environmental damage from the process.

Mr McFarlane said this was the right approach.

“While there has been speculation that fracking could provide enough natural gas for Northern Ireland for 50 years,” he added, “this must be tempered with a need to ensure that all environmental and planning requirements are complied with.”





Bloody Friday anniversary lets community reflect on past, plan for future

20 07 2012

 

SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness has said that those behind the Bloody Friday atrocity owe it to the victims to share information as the wider community reflects on the conflicts of the past and looks for positive solutions in the future.

Mr Maginness, who, as a 22-year-old law student, was at home close to the site of the Cavehill Road bomb on Bloody Friday, was speaking after the broadcast of a BBC documentary ahead of the 40th anniversary of the atrocity tomorrow.

 He said: “Given the powerful nature of the BBC programme on Bloody Friday, it is time for those who were involved in perpetrating the atrocity to reflect on the legacy of it.

 “They should at the very least be prepared to disclose information to the victims and their families.

 “The Bloody Friday anniversary is a timely reminder of the futility of violence and of the necessity for us to sustain the peaceful society we have been moving towards as well as to let ourselves and future generations learn that any resort to violence will not solve our problems, but, instead, make them more difficult to deal with.

 “In fact, we have two major issues to deal with – the past, and the present.

 “To deal with the past, we will need a comprehensive mechanism to assist in addressing the legacy of the atrocities committed during the Troubles.

 “It is no longer good enough for lip service to be paid to creating a real and workable means of dealing with the past – we need to be ambitious enough for our society that we can dare to move beyond cosy stability and, with a spirit of cooperation, explore how we approach truth and reconciliation so we can least begin to heal the wounds caused by violence, distrust and division.

 “As for the present, the current system in Stormont, which worked so well in creating the stability needed at the time of its inception, is being hijacked by tacit agreements and in-house deals by the DUP and Sinn Féin.

 “What is missing in the way we deal with our present system is a sense of goodwill, which is essential in fostering a sense of partnership.

 “We recognise the progress we have made and the great things that have come out of it, but while we have two parties whose arrogance – summed up in this recent series of announced ‘agreements’ that only seem to have been agreed within OFMDFM – deny a true sense of partnership, we cannot hope to move towards a shared future, or a meaningful mechanism of dealing with the divided past.

 “Partnership will create the conditions in which true reconciliation can take place and our society can begin to unite and this should be the ambition of all democratic politicians, but, unfortunately, that is not being fostered by the current carve-up.

 “We need to move beyond grandiose statements from Stormont Castle, or lectures on democratic politics from the Secretary of State – we need to effect a step-change in our attitudes, away from Westminster cap-doffing and petty personal interests and forge our own future: a future in partnership, a future in reconciliation, a future free from fear.

 “If we can offer that to the memory of the victims of Bloody Friday, we will have at least the foundations of a job well done.”