I had the chance to meet some of those very inspiring people in Ireland East last week with a visit to the BrayLakers club in Bray, Co Wicklow.
BrayLakers is a community-based sports, social and recreation club for children and adults with an intellectual disability.
But it is much more than that. The place isn’t wow, but the work and play that is part of the BrayLakers programme is just amazing.
Activities range from table tennis, cooking, basketball, arts and crafts and organised outings. The club started years ago when parents of children with special needs saw a gap in the market and decided to set up a club for their children. Many of the people who set up BrayLakers are still very actively involved. There is such a great and positive atmosphere in the club that I was reluctant to leave it on Monday last! Braylakers are trying to raise funds for a new premises and I have promised to see what I can do to make their dream come through.
Thanks to all the management and members of BrayLakers for the wonderful visit that began my ‘constituency week’ on a very positive note. A particular thanks for the delicious apple tart.
During my time in Wicklow, I also met with Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan. This was a very constructive meeting during which we discussed a range of key issues including water charges and local government reform.
The environment portfolio is a major one in government, it is crucial that we get people to understand the EU 2020 strategy which talks about smart, green and sustainable growth for the future and why managing our resources in an efficient way is so important for our future.
Minister Hogan was in Wicklow to launch the Leave No Trace website. The organisation works to promote responsible use of our countryside.
I knew very little about the organisation and was fascinated to see all the good work it is doing for the environment. Check out the Leave No Trace website, it is a great resource for teachers.
While in Wicklow I chaired the AGM of Fine Gael in Wicklow, which was addressed by Minister Hogan and TDs Andrew Doyle and Billy Timmins, as well as many of the local councillors. I find it a great way to keep in touch with what is happening in the country to listen to what the councillors have to say.
I made the point about the importance of listening to people as we canvass for a strong yes vote in the referendum on the fiscal compact.
Check out my brief synopsis of the treaty on YouTube.
I also met with the Deputy President of the IFA, Eddie Downey, to discuss CAP reform before updating the Oireachtas Committee on Agricultural Reform on the latest from Brussels.
I remain concerned that their is complacency about the size of the EU budget post 2013 and warned TDs of the need to lobby their parliamentary colleagues in other Member States about the importance of an adequate budget for the EU and for the Common Agriculture Policy. I said very clearly that there are Member States that are pushing for a lower budget for the EU and therefore a lower budget for agriculture and regard it as a badge of honour to take this view.
Constituency weeks provide the best opportunity to meet the people who elected me as their representative. It is their concerns and comments that I take back to the European Parliament as I return to parliamentary work this week.
As we celebrate the beginning of the EU with ‘Europe Day’ tomorrow, May 9th, Europe is continuing to evolve. The EU was created to unite European countries in peace and prosperity and that is a constant work-in-progress.
Europe is in the midst of an economic crisis and in times of crisis our resolve has to be even stronger. The elections in Greece and France in recent days show a desire for change and perhaps a sense of frustration with the current situation.
French socialist FranÃ§ois Hollande has succeeded as President-elect of France and will replace Nicolas Sarkozy on May 15th. In Greece, the ruling pro-bailout parties have lost their majority in a parliamentary election but a new government has yet to be formed, leading to much speculation about the future political situation there.
The only way to rectify the economic collapse is to instigate recovery in a responsible way. It is a very difficult task.
Europe Day gives us cause to reflect on the proposal by Robert Schuman in 1950 that amounted to the beginning of the EU under the Schuman Declaration.
The EU was founded in the aftermath of a horrifying war in order to bring Europe together by merging economic interests and promoting peaceful relations. It is important to remember why we remain so committed to a unified Europe. It is dangerous to forget and allow current economic woes to shift us to the extremes in politics. They have no solutions to offer and instead fuel public anger and inflame a very difficult situation.
It makes the work of more moderate politicians more difficult but more important too.