Government’s failure to support FOI motion is a major disappointment – Imelda Munster TD

Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has called on the government to end the crisis in the state’s Freedom of Information (FOI) regime and has expressed disappointment that they didn’t support Sinn Fein’s motion this week in the Dáil on FOI reform.

Following on from recent events around the Zappone appointment controversy, Sinn Féin brought forward the motion to allow those who fail in their FOI duties to be investigated by the Standards In Public Office Commission (SIPO), amongst several other measures to further strengthen the FOI regime.

Sinn Féin will also introduce legislation in the coming weeks to address this issue.

Teachta Munster said,

“It’s clear to everyone that our FOI regime is in crisis.  This bill is timely, given the recent fallout from the Zappone appointment controversy.”

“We’ve seen a Minister deleting official government correspondence in the form of text messages. Departments are claiming information sought under FOI doesn’t exist only for us to find out later that it does. Refusals and redactions of requests are frequently given based on reasons that were later shown to be spurious or incorrect. Journalists and transparency campaigners and organizations have been pointing this out for a long time now.”

”We’ve now even had the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other government Ministers accept that there are big problems. However Minister McGrath, the one with responsibility for FOI has been remarkably silent. He previously told us the FOI regime was ‘robust and working well’, only for these revelations to emerge a few weeks later. It was a case of famous last words.”

Teachta Munster concluded:

“This state has always had a poor track record when it comes to transparency and accountability. A well-functioning FOI regime is central to holding those in power to account. It’s not a left versus right issue. It’s a democratic issue.”

“It’s an issue of whether we believe those in power should be accountable to their citizens, or whether there should be a separate set of rules for them entirely. I would appeal to those members of the government who do consider themselves supporters of democracy, to change their stance on this, and to support our legislation as it moves through the Dáil in the coming weeks.”

Northern Cross Route must be included in National Development Plan: Imelda Munster TD

Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has repeated her call for government action on the Port Access Northern Cross Route (PANCR), asking the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath TD, to ensure that the project is included in the government’s planned ten year National Development Plan (NDP) which is due to be published later this month.

Deputy Munster said:

“I’ve written to Minister McGrath asking him to ensure that this vital project is included in the National Development plan. I re-emphasised the importance of this road project to Drogheda, both in terms of traffic management but also in terms of the wider development of the Drogheda area.

“The route is critical to the development of housing in Drogheda under the Northern Environs Plan. The road will also re-route a significant amount of traffic, including HGVs, out of Drogheda town centre which currently has extremely high levels of traffic congestion.

“Drogheda has been designated as a Regional Growth Area and the PANCR project is a vital part of the planned development and growth of the town. It is of the utmost importance that this road is finally prioritised and funded by government under the NDP.

“I have raised this matter on many occasions with the Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien TD, as his department has turned down several funding applications from Louth County Council, despite his 2019 electioneering promise that the road must be funded and built.

“People in Drogheda are sick to the back teeth of delays. It’s been fifteen years and it’s beyond farcical that we still don’t have funding for the project.

“Inclusion in the National Development Plan is central to the future prospects of the road, and Minister McGrath must prioritise it.”

 

Munster calls on Minister to ensure no school lose a teacher

Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has called on the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, to ensure no primary school should lose a teacher ahead of the planned reopening of schools at the end of the month, given the enormous challenges facing schools as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Deputy Munster raised the issue after concerns were raised in recent weeks that several schools in Louth would be losing teachers as a result of changes in enrolment numbers for the coming  academic year.

Deputy Munster said:

“I have received correspondence from parents at St. Patrick’s National School, Harestown, Monasterboice and the  Rampark National School in Jenkinstown, Dundalk  who are very concerned that their schools are due to lose teaching positions ahead of the new school term.

“In St Patrick’s NS in Harestown one teaching position will be lost, which will result in mixed level classes of up to 31 children. Parents have said that this will make physical distancing impossible. This teaching post must be reinstated.

“In Rampark NS, two teaching positions have been lost since last September. The school is six pupils short of retaining both teaching positions. This has left the school in a position where the pupil to teacher ratio in classrooms from first class up to sixth class is 32:1

“Both of these schools will now be operating well above the recommended pupil to teacher ratio of 26:1. This is too high in normal circumstances, but it is completely unacceptable in the midst of a pandemic where physical distancing is central to ensuring the safety of children and staff.

“I raised the situation at Harestown with Minister Foley, and received a response from her office outlining why the school was not eligible to retain its existing staff. It is clear from the response that the department is not taking the additional challenges caused by the current crisis into account in its decision making on staff allocations.

“The views expressed in the response I received from her office do not correlate with statements made by the Minister on this very matter prior to her appointment as Minister for Education. On June 8th in the Dáil then-Deputy Foley highlighted the need for a safe environment for our children, and said ‘under the current guidelines we need more, not fewer teachers. I am calling on the Minister and the Department to include additional places for teachers to reflect the current circumstances.’

“I would suggest that the Minister revert to her previous position on this matter and introduce a freeze on staffing levels this year in all primary schools. The positions due to be lost in St Patrick’s NS and Rampark NS must be reinstated immediately to give both schools every opportunity to reopen safely at the end of the month. This is a matter of public safety and the issue must be rectified immediately.

 

Munster: Utmost priority must be given to Northern Cross Route application by Louth County Council

Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has called on Louth County Council to give the utmost priority to the application for funding for the Northern Cross Route under the LIHAF programme.

The window for applications opened on 1st February, and is due to close on 31st March.

Deputy Munster said:

“This is the third opportunity to apply for funding, with the council previously submitting two unsuccessful applications.

“The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, following a proposal I made to the Minister after the last unsuccessful application, organised a workshop on the 5th February last, and I was glad to hear that two senior staff members of Louth County Council were in attendance.

“It is imperative that the new application fits the new defined criteria, and it’s also imperative that this is a case of third time lucky for the application.

“Once Louth County Council have confirmed that the application has been submitted, and once I have seen a copy of same, I will pursue it with the Minister to ensure that this vital piece of infrastructure, that has been in planning since 2006, can finally get the go-ahead from government.

“We can no longer put up with daily gridlock in Drogheda. This is about a vital piece of infrastructure and sustainable planning, and it is a must for Drogheda.

“We’ve waited long enough.”

Munster calls for Drogheda-Laytown bus route to be extended to Julianstown

Imelda Munster TD for Louth and East Meath has called for the D1/D2 bus route between Drogheda and Laytown to be extended as far as Julianstown with an additonal stop at Sonairte – The National Ecology Centre at The Ninch on the R150.

Deputy Munster said:

“This minor bus route extension which would only add an additional 4km each way from the current terminus at Laytown train station would be of enormous benefit to local people.

“It would also be invaluable for visitors to Sonairte as well as the Tús and CE employees who work there, some of whom have existing medical conditions and have no option but to walk an extra 15/20 minutes from Laytown train station along the R150, a dangerous stretch of road with no footpaths or lighting.

“As it stands Sonairte, an environmental charity since 1986 open to the Public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, is inaccessible to many who don’t drive but would love to avail of its Vegetarian/Vegan Café, Eco Shop selling produce grown in their organic gardens, and nature walk along the Nanny riverside.

“Furthermore, this simple change which would provide a public bus service between Julianstown and Laytown would also connect the existing Bus Eireann Dublin/ Airport/Drogheda bus route which currently stops in Julianstown, to Laytown, Bettystown, Mornington and Donacarney.

“As it is, most people from the East Meath coastal villages have to disembark from the Dublin/ Airport bus at Julianstown or Drogheda and get a taxi for the remainder of their journey.

“I have written to Bus Eireann and the National Transport Authority requesting that they examine the feasibility of extending this much needed service.

“While people living in this area have warmly welcomed the recent improvements to the bus service between Drogheda and Laytown, a bus link to the main Dublin Road from the villages is long overdue especially given the huge and ongoing population explosion in the area.”