O'Rourke Calls For Swift Appointment of New Minister for Defence
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford Westmeath by-election has called on the Taoiseach to move quickly to appoint a new Minister for Defence.
Responsibility for the Defence portfolio currently lies with the Taoiseach’s department on a temporary basis, following the resignation of Alan Shatter last week.
O’Rourke commented, “I am concerned about how long this ‘interim’ arrangement may last. We cannot allow a situation where no Cabinet Minister is appointed to the role before the summer recess.”
“There’s a possibility of further Ministerial changes after the local and European elections, but we don’t know if this will be before or after the summer recess. I sincerely hope that the Taoiseach does not intend to delegate the Department of Defence to a Minister of State either in the medium or longer term.”
“The next Dáil questions to the Minister for Defence are scheduled for late June. At the very least, the next Minister for Defence should be settled in the role some weeks before then. Anything less would indicate a fundamental lack of respect for the position of Defence Minister and for the Defence Forces as a whole.”
Unfair Cuts to Single Farm Payments Causing Hopelessness– Aengus O’Rourke
“Changes to the single farm payment system which include severe cuts to low income farmers have to be reversed,” said Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford Westmeath by-election.
“Farmers receiving between €5,100 and €10,000 will see their payments cut by up to ten percent under new changes to the single farm payment,” said O’Rourke. “Up until and including 2013, the first €5,000 of the single farm payment was exempt from any deductions. However, in future, any farmer receiving a payment of more than €5,000 will have a 10.49 percent deduction imposed on the full amount of their funding. This equates to a cut of €452 for a farmer in receipt of a payment of €5,001. However, unbelievably, as the payments increase, the deductions actually reduce resulting in increased payments for farmers receiving €50,000 or more.”
“This is another blow for low income farmers and is creating a feeling of hopelessness amongst the farming community where it seems all the focus is on those with large farms on very good land,” he continued. “Everything is focussed on the top 15 percent and there seems to be a conscious effort to try to drive many of the smaller farmers, or farmers on marginal land, out of business by wholesale cuts to payments and multiple schemes with ever more bureaucracy and red tape.”
“If elected, I will use my position to serve the needs of the farmers in Longford and Westmeath. This government has the biggest majority in the history of the State. It does not need another silent back bencher. Do farmers want a strong, capable representative to voice their concerns to the Government, or just more of the same? That is the decision people have to make before 23rd May,” concluded O’Rourke.
Local Property Tax Must Be Spent Locally – Aengus O’Rourke
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford Westmeath by-election, believes that the local property tax must be invested locally to support effective and efficient services for the local area.
According to O’Rourke, “Fine Gael justified the local property tax (LPT) by saying that 80 percent of it would be re-invested directly back into local communities. However, this promise has been broken. Fianna Fáil is committed to investing 80 percent of the revenue raised through the LPT directly back into the local area from which it came. I firmly believe that the local community should benefit from local charges and that taxes should guarantee good, efficient services for that area. There is so much that we could do with these funds in the Longford Westmeath area.”
“I am firmly against the doubling of the property tax and I will vote against any increase based on any new house valuations. I believe all local councils should vote for it to be reduced by 15 percent when this power is available to them in September 2014. I will bring this and other concerns to the Government’s attention if I am elected and will act as a strong voice for the people of Longford Westmeath. Do people want a capable, strong representative standing up for the people of Longford Westmeath, or more of the same? That is what voters need to decide before 23rd May,” concluded O’Rourke.
O'Rourke Secures Commitment from Fianna Fáil Leader to Reinstate 4th Western Brigade – A Huge Boost for the Midlands
Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford Westmeath by-election, has confirmed that Fianna Fail has committed to reinstating the 4th Western Brigade when they are next returned to power. The announcement was made when Michael Martin, Fianna Fail party leader, joined O’Rourke on his election campaign in Athlone.
“Reinstating the Western brigade will be a huge booth for the midlands and for Athlone in particular. It should never have been abolished in the first place,” said O’Rourke.
Cllr. O'Rourke continued, “Morale in Custume Barracks is on the floor following the actions and decisions taken by this government. In 2012, I took the lead locally in opposing the attack by this Government on Custume Barracks when they disbanded the 4th Western Brigade. This was the first step in this Government’s plan to ultimately close Custume Barracks. We must stop at nothing to ensure this does not happen.”
Cllr. O'Rourke concluded “I am delighted that the Fianna Fail party have given such a strong commitment to the Army here in the midlands.”
Cllr. Aengus O'Rourke welcomes completion and opening of the new Garrycastle Bridge
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford/Westmeath by-election, has welcomed the completion and re-opening of the new and long awaited Garrycastle Bridge. The bridge will be re-opened by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr. Leo Varadkar, T.D. today (Friday 9th May). Work has been ongoing over the past year on this €3 million project which involved the replacement of the current bridge over the railway line from Mullingar to Athlone.
Cllr. O’Rourke said, “I’m proud to have been instrumental in ensuring that this project has come to fruition. Local residents and commuters can now breathe a sigh of relief as the construction phase comes to an end with a new bridge, roundabouts, cycle paths and footpaths all completed to a very high standard. Motorists in Athlone can now enjoy a safer and faster route through the Garrycastle area thanks to the new bridge.”
“Work on the bridge realignment scheme got underway following persistent pressure on the Government by Athlone Town Council. If I am elected in the by-election I will ensure that the people of Longford/Westmeath are not forgotten by the Government who appear oblivious to the needs of the people of the midlands. We need investment across both counties to deliver progressive infrastructural projects like the new Garrycastle bridge to enhance and develop our local communities. It is only by improving local infrastructure that we can attract much needed business and enterprise into Longford/Westmeath.”
Start Fixing Water Infrastructure and Quality First – Aengus O’Rourke
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Fianna Fáil candidate in the Longford/Westmeath by-election, has criticised the Government on its handling of the water charges issue. According to O’Rourke, the Government should work on improving water quality and fix the country’s decrepit water infrastructure before imposing an indiscriminate charge on individuals and families already under severe pressure.
Speaking about the issue Cllr. O’Rourke said, “Fianna Fáil has consistently opposed the Government’s Irish Water model which it rammed through Dáil Éireann in order to avoid real scrutiny. The scandalous revelations of the €180 million spent on consultants and the dishonesty of the Government on the set-up costs of the Irish Water Super Quango has vindicated our concerns. Irish Water strips away functions from democratically accountable local authorities and places them in the hands of a new, bonus-driven ‘Super Quango’.”
“Now the Government is considering introducing a water tax of at least €240 per annum, per household at a time when three out of every four houses are not yet metred and without any consideration of ability to pay. Families are under severe pressure to make ends meet. I fear that introducing the water tax next October will be the final straw for many.”
“It is also worth remembering Labour’s statements in relation to water charges just a few short years ago,” continued O’Rourke. “The Labour Election Manifesto of 2011 states: “Labour does not favour water charges”. Similarly, Eamon Gilmore stated in the Irish Examiner on 28th June 2010, “I’m against water charging. Water is a necessity, I’ve always believed essential services like water should be delivered as a public service.”
“Before any charges are introduced, work should begin on improving our water quality and infrastructure. I also firmly believe that ability to pay should be taken into consideration, and there should be exemptions for those on low incomes and the old age pension,” said Cllr. O’Rouke.
“I concur with my colleagues Dara Calleary and Barry Cowen who are calling on the Government to immediately publish the cost of water per litre that they are proposing so that people can have some clarity about how much they will actually be forced to pay.”
“If I am elected in the by-election on 23rd May I will ensure that the Government hears the concerns of the people of Longford/Westmeath loud and clear in relation to this issue,” concluded O’Rourke.
An Board Pleanala this week refused an appeal by Local Developer Tony Diskin to the decision taken last year by Athlone Town Council to refuse permission for a large scale development in Golden Island.
Cllr. O'Rourke said he was very disappointed at the out come of the appeal and said it was a huge blow to the town. "I have been watching this application very carefully over the past 12 months as I regarded it as having the potential to give Athlone a badly needed shot in the arm at a time when there is very little else going on.
"This development was planned for the Diskin site in Golden Island, a large prime development site. There was a guaranteed blue chip tenant ready to occupy the bulk of the development. The development would have tidied up the site but more importantly it would have provided significant additional employment. It would also have contributed a huge amount of development levies and commercial rates to the Council.
"I am also concerned at what appears to be a disconnect between the planning mindset at Council level and within An Board Pleanala. The main reason for refusal by the board seems to have been the scale of the development, yet from a Council perspective it was traffic and flooding. A developer is never going to satisfy our planning decision makers if the goal posts are moved to such a significant extent.
"I will be taking this matter up with the Council with a view to obtaining further clarity on how these two decisions could have been so far removed from one other. For the developer I am very disappointed at the decision, he has put huge effort and resources into these applications. I am also extremely disappointed at the missed opportunity for Athlone.
Speaking after Monday nights meeting Cllr O'Rourke expressed his satisfaction with the outcome, "The motion raised by Cllr. Cooney to have a certain piece of Art removed from the gallery in my view was invalid and had no place on an Agenda of a Town Council Meeting.
"Granted we are the only shareholders, the only owners of the property but a year ago we gave Athlone Art & Heritage Limited the authority to run the facility. That company is made up of a board of Directors, all well respected and for the motion to appear on the agenda undermines the authority and autonomy of that board. Why have a dog and bark yourself?
"If the motion had proceeded to a vote and the decision was taken to ‘force’ the removal of the exhibit in question I believe it would in effect have rendered the directors of Athlone Art & Heritage redundant and rendered the company defunct……. and all of a sudden we are (the Councillors) running an art gallery and a Castle!
"In relation to the piece its self, I fully appreciate that to some people this piece of art could be regarded as insensitive and I fully understand that, particularly in an army town like Athlone. I have read the exhibit myself so I see the point being made in this regard. However, this was never a decision for us to take and the motion should never have appeared on the agenda.
"I am satisfied at the eventual outcome after a week of intensive speculation and public interest. I have never before received as many representations about one single issue. But what I am most pleased about is that we as Councillors can now get back to work. There are very many pressing issues before us and a lot of challenges facing people out there. For the remaining 18 months of this Council term, indeed this councils life I would rather we get back to business and get on with what the people put us here to do.
Cllr. O'Rourke concluded, "I wish the Luan Gallery well and hope that if anything this controversy might serve to bring more people to Athlone and to the Gallery."
Fianna Fáil Councillor Aengus O'Rourke said he is becoming increasingly concerned at the government's complete indifference to speculation that the banks are planning another round of variable rate mortgage hikes potentially affecting up to 300,000 customers.
Cllr. O'Rourke said, "There is growing speculation that AIB is planning a further hike in variable mortgage rates and that this will spark another round of hikes by the other banks. Variable rate mortgage customers have become the sacrificial lambs as the banks seek to make up for losses elsewhere in their books.
"While the final decision on rates does rest with the banks at present, it is remarkable that the government is unwilling to even express a view on the matter given the impact of rate increases on mortgage arrears and the wider economy. Less than two years ago – fresh in office – the government took a much more hands on approach on at least one occasion when the banks were dragging their feet on passing on an ECB rate increase.
"Many analysts now believe that variable rates could reach 5% in the next year or so. On a €200,000 mortgage over 20 years, the difference in the monthly repayment between a customer on a variable rate of 5% and a customer on a tracker of 1.75% is a staggering almost €400. This pattern is completely unsustainable and is an issue government cannot continue to ignore. It is about time the government stood up for variable rate mortgage customers and made its views known to the banks on the prospect of further rate increases."
Fianna Fáil Councillor Aengus O'Rourke is calling on the Government to reconsider its plan to include farm assets in means testing for Third Level Grants.
Reports in the past week suggest that the Minister for Education will proceed with plans to include farm and business assets as part of their assessment criteria for Third Level Grants.
Cllr O'Rourke commented: “I find it hugely disappointing that the Minister plans to forge ahead with these plans despite huge opposition within and outside the Government. Eligibility for the grant should be solely judged on income and it is discriminatory to use agricultural lands as part of the assessment criteria.
“Under the current grant application system, all farm income is assessed. If the Government goes ahead and assesses the value of farmland as an income source on its own, this would be hugely unfair and amount to double assessment on the same land.
“To proceed with this plan would result in a further cut to student grants targeted at farming and self-employed families. It will put many farming families in a position where they must decide whether or not to sell some of their land, which may not be generating income, in order to fund college for their children.
“Fianna Fail is completely opposed to this as it would act as a further deterrent to third level education at a time when education is so important to our economic recovery.
“There should not be separate rules for farmers and everyone else. The double assessment for farmers is wrong, discriminatory – it must and will be strongly resisted by Fianna Fáil.”