On constitutional change, Libya, nuclear power and education

After a few weeks in the Dáil Chamber, you’d think I’d be settling in at this stage. I’m not so sure. Maybe it should be important not to ever get too settled in a structure that is in much need of change. Despite all warnings to the contrary, I have had the privilege of speaking in the chamber every day since it opened – being part of the Technical Group of Independents has certainly worked out well with regard to gaining speaking rights.

Many times during the election I was told that, as an Independent, I would find it difficult to get opportunities to express my point of view in the chamber. Obviously, influencing the decision-making process is another challenge but, for the moment, I am prepared to give the coalition the benefit of the doubt when they say that they will certainly engage with us Independents.

Following my opening speech, I addressed the issue of constitutional change and the manner in which the coalition might deal with it. In the Labour election manifesto, prior to 25 February, it was made clear that they would include ordinary people and civil society groups in the Constitutional Convention, but when it came to the coalition’s Programme for Government, the Labour promise was very much watered down with the terms ‘ordinary citizens’ and ‘civil society organisations’ disappearing. If the government  are serious about Constitutional change, it is imperative that they behave in a democratic manner, which means involving the people, and preventing the process staying too much ‘in house’. We’ve had many reports on Constitutional change before, but they amounted to very little as they remained an exercise internal to the existing system.

My third speech related to the government’s backing for the Western powers bombing of Libya. Sadly, the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have still to be learnt by many in public office. I refuse to accept that dropping bombs on people from the sky is a good way of introducing them to democracy. The US and its allies have been very selective about where to introduce no-fly zones or begin a bombing campaign. Sarkozy refused to support the people’s revolt in Tunisia and Egypt but couldn’t wait to bomb Libya – not because he actually cares about civilians in Libya but more likely because he sees it as a way of improving his chances of re-election in France next year. Why didn’t these civic-minded leaders think of introducing a no-fly zone over Palestine in 2009 when Israel was bombing the ‘living daylights’ out of it? Or Bahrain and Yemen in the last few weeks where civilians were being shot on the streets by American-backed dictators?

On the following two days, I managed to speak on the risk of nuclear energy as so clearly demonstrated by the crisis in Japan recently, also spoke on the lack of honesty in much of Ireland’s approach to world political affairs, before eventually getting around to the latest scandal in Irish education with the reduction of learning support teachers through the removal of Resource Teachers for Travellers and the Visiting Teacher Service for Travellers, as well as the cap imposed on the number of Special Needs Assistants.

I visited a national school in Clonroche to try to understand the extent to which a school can be decimated by savage cuts of this nature. The school’s learning support system is being reduced from two and a half teachers (one teacher is shared with another school) to one – placing a massive burden on the staff of a school that is clearly very well run, and run in the spirit of vocation to the children rather than just a job. I challenged the Minister of Education, Ruairi Quinn, to consider the madness of this measure –  research has shown that for every euro spent on children, the State saves €7 before that same child becomes an adult. Even if you didn’t have a social bone in your body, from an economic point of view, investing in children makes for good business.