Anne Ferris TD Vice-Chair of Oireachtas Justice, Defence & Equality Committee
"I cannot conceive why this gross property bubble was allowed to develop or why a political party would put developers and bankers to the fore, ahead of the people they were elected to serve" - Anne Ferris speaking in the Dáil on 12th July 2012.
When I entered Dáil Éireann as a newly elected Labour TD on March 9th, 2011, to represent the people of Wicklow and East Carlow, I brought with me a 17-year long background in community representation and a determination to make a better future for the people of my constituency.
I started from a difficult place. The economy was in free fall, a result of poor governance during the Fianna Fail years and the dire financial consequences of the now notorious Fianna Fail bank guarantee which had been opposed in the Dáil by Labour but supported by Sinn Fein.
Under the previous government so much energy had been focussed on saving the big construction magnates and foreign investors in Ireland's banks that important social policies had been neglected for years. Unemployment was growing out of control, distressed mortgage holders were at real risk of eviction, low income workers were at constant risk from the decisions of a government that had lost its sovereign rights to manage its own tax affairs.
Despite the difficult starting point a lot of progress towards Ireland's better future has been made during the first half of the term of the new government.
- Employment is now growing. Since the post-recession low point in the second quarter of 2012, net employment has risen by 24,000.
- Tourism numbers are up. Visitor numbers from abroad increased by 7.4% for the first three months of the year, producing the highest number of trips to Ireland in that period since 2009. This is especially good news for Wicklow and Carlow where visitors to our high quality hotels and beauty spots generated almost €90m in revenue to the local economies of two of Ireland's most picturesque counties during 2011.
- Labour in government has protected the lower earners in our economy and the unemployed from the level of cuts that might otherwise have occurred. For example, we reversed the minimum wage cut and protected basic social welfare rates; 330,000 of the lowest paid workers were taken out of the tax net; we introduced back-to-work schemes such as JobBridge to get people working again.
- The Personal Insolvency Act 2012 has provided much needed debt resolution mechanisms for those at risk of losing their homes as a result of the careless lending regime overseen by the last government and rising interest rates in the wake of the bank guarantee.
- Social issues are now once again firmly in place on the government agenda. Twenty years after the X Case judgement, where the courts had decided that a woman has a right to an abortion where "a real and substantial risk" to her life exists, this government has been brave enough to make the legal changes necessary to comply with the court ruling. Women's lives will be safer as a result although it will not stop the flow of women to the UK for abortions there under a more liberal regime. A review of domestic violence in Ireland has been commenced by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence & Equality, of which I am Vice-Chair. The same committee has recently published recommendations on the reform of laws on prostitution. There are new plans to reform the justice system to the benefit of those who seek its protection.
- Climate change is a very real phenomenon which in recent years has contributed to devastating personal and financial loss internationally and in Ireland. Flood relief projects under construction during this government include the €28m Bray Flood Defence Scheme. The future of Coillte forests, which act as a carbon sink and help moderate the effects of climate change, is now secure after months of lobbying by me and others.
In these challenging times and against an inherited backdrop of austerity, it has been an uphill battle to achieve these successes. There is a lot more to be done during the second half of this government's term to give Ireland a better future.
- Employment is now thankfully growing at a steady rate, but unemployment is still far too high. I will continue to prioritise job creation in our Wicklow and Carlow during the remaining part of this government term.
- The banks which have drained so much money from our economy need to start distributing money back into the economy to help small businesses grow and to restart the property market, this time in a sustainable manner. The lending practices of our banks will continue to be a priority area for me as we go forward in this government.
- The growing and tragic problem of suicide needs to be addressed in an informed and compassionate manner.
- The tourism growth we have achieved during the first half of this government needs to be nurtured. Finding new ways of increasing even further the tourism growth in Wicklow and Carlow will be a continued priority for me.
- Equality for all ages, genders and races is an aspect of our society that deserves full attention and fair governance and this government has plans to do more on that front.
- Environmental protection and climate change affect quality of life as well as tourism and the economy and require ongoing committed government focus. I will continue to champion environmental issues during the remainder of this government term.
I will continue to work for the people of Wicklow/East Carlow and if I can assist you with anything, please don't hesitate to contact me.