Microfinance loan fund will be a lifeline for small, growing businesses

Fine Gael Dún Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’ Connor, has welcomed this morning’s launch of the Government’s Microfinance loan fund. The fund will provide loans to small, commercially viable businesses that do not meet the risk criteria applied by banks. It will be administered by Microfinance Ireland and will cater to all industry sectors. The Microfinance Scheme will be open for business from next Monday, 1st October.

“I warmly welcome this new Microfinance loan fund, which will be a lifeline for small, growing businesses. Many small Irish firms are unable to access credit due to the banks’ risk criteria. This €90 million fund will help firms overcome these fundamental obstacles and enable them to develop their businesses. Businesses can qualify for loans of up to €25,000.

“These small businesses are of huge importance to the economy. However they face massive challenges in accessing credit. This scheme will is expected to benefit an estimated 7,700 small businesses over 10 years. This could help create 5,500 jobs.

“Businesses cannot grow without funding and I know of a number of small businesses which could benefit greatly from this initiative. I encourage small businesses which are looking to grow to consider applying for this scheme. Further details, guides and application forms can be found at County and City Enterprise Boards and at www.enterpriseboards.ie.

“We need these businesses to succeed and grow in order for our economy to return to prosperity. I am glad that this Government is championing small businesses and I congratulate Minister Bruton for this excellent initiative.”

Additional funding for start-up companies great boost for Dun Laoghaire

Fine Gael TD for Dun Laoghaire, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Tuesday) welcomed the announcement by Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, that 30 companies have received funding from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund. The Deputy has also welcomed the additional €750,000 in a new round of funding, which will benefit up to 15 additional companies. This could be of great benefit to many start-up businesses, particularly in the Dun Laoghaire area.

“With 18 of the 30 companies which have been awarded this funding being located in the Dublin area, it is a welcome boost for our local economy. The companies which were awarded the funding are start-up businesses which are leading the way in innovation and job creation. With the announcement of an additional €750,000 in funding, a further 15 companies will receive funding allowing them to grow and develop their business. This could be hugely beneficial to companies in Dun Laoghaire.

“The Competitive Start Fund provides new companies in the Industrial and ICT sectors with funding to test the market with their products and services and hopefully progress their business plans to the global marketplace. The additional 15 companies will bring the total companies that have benefited from this fund, up to 60.

“The closing date for applicants is 10th October, 2012. I would strongly urge any new companies which feel that they could benefit from this fund, to apply.

Fiscal Responsibility

I support the Fiscal Responsibility Bill just as I supported the Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum. The learning of fiscal responsibility should begin at a young age. When I was younger my parents entrusted small, menial jobs around the house to me in return for a small bit of money. This made me appreciative, from a young age, of the cost of a commodity and my financiers. It instilled a belief in me that if one wanted something, one worked for it.

In the Celtic Tiger era these principles became lost on many people. Money was easily accessible due to reckless lending from the banks. Children were presented with copious amounts of money in return for very little effort.  We were too busy to be concerned with budgets or to teach our children life skills. We were too busy to be concerned about putting the skills embedded in us into practice. The blame for this lies with the previous Government, banks and the regulator. We were flying high on a property bubble and we were encouraged to live beyond our means. That was the level of thinking about the sustainability of our budgets. It was only a matter of time before it all collapsed.

The collapse has affected us all, including the most innocent among us. In many ways these people suffer the most. Many people, who are in serious negative equity, struggle to put food on the table and send their children to school. Older people have lost their pensions, for which they spent 40 years saving. People who had invested their money in supposedly safe bank shares are now left with nothing.

It will not be easy for this Government to bring spending within sustainable limits and to balance the budget. We will get there through hard decisions which in the long run will leave this country in better shape.

Mitchell O’Connor welcomes recognition that the HPAT needs to be reviewed

Fine Gael TD for Dun Laoghaire, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Friday) welcomed the interim report from the five Irish medical schools on the HPAT (Health Professionals Admissions Test), the test which must be completed by Leaving Certificate students hoping to study medicine. The report has recommended that the HPAT system be included in a review on the admissions process being carried out by the Irish Universities Association.

“I am taking today’s report from the deans of the medical schools as a clear recognition that the HPAT system needs to be changed. It has highlighted the problem whereby students who fail to score high in the HPAT are taking up a college course, repeating the HPAT and then dropping out of their original course when they manage to score higher. This is creating a vacant place in second year which can’t be filled, denying other students a chance to get into a course.

“I am also encouraged by the words of Professor Bill Powderly who acknowledges that limiting the sitting of the HPAT to one year only may reduce some of the problem, and he says he believes that rather than tweaking the HPAT, we should consider university entry overall so that tackling one issue doesn’t create problems elsewhere.

“I aired my concerns about the HPAT to the Minister for Education in the Dáil this week. Rather than delivering on its objective to open up medical courses to a wider range of students, it has instead become a revenue generator for expensive coaching courses. Eighty-five per cent of those who repeat the HPAT secured a higher score on their second attempt. So instead of broadening the type of doctors we produce, we are potentially further restricting the profession to the elite.

“I believe an urgent decision needs to be made on the future of HPAT, and I am glad there is now an acceptance from the deans of the medical schools involved that the system needs to be looked at. I would add that it will be important to phase out the system. Scrapping it in just one year would be very unfair to those preparing to sit their Leaving Certificate in 2013. However, there is no doubt that the current system is not achieving its core objective.”

Decision on future of HPAT is urgently needed

Exam is restricting rather than opening access to medical courses.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has called for an urgent decision to be made on the future of the HPAT (Health Professionals Admissions Test), which must be completed by Leaving Certificate students hoping to study medicine at third level. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor raised the issue during Topical Issues Debate today (Thursday) in the DÃ ¡il.

“The core idea of the HPAT was to identify students who had the right aptitude and personality to become doctors. But in reality it has simply become a revenue generator for expensive preparation courses, many of which have sprung up online since it was introduced three years ago.

“Eight-five per cent of those who repeat the HPAT secured a higher score on their second attempt. Do they magically get a personality transplant in the intervening year? Of course not; many complete an expensive coaching course, and learn how to beat the system. In other words, instead of broadening the type of doctors we produce, we are potentially further restricting the profession to the elite.

“I believe it is wrong and extremely unfair that a student who studies hard, makes sacrifices and gets 625 points does not get their course of choice.
The minimum requirement for entry to some medical courses is an Honours C3 in Chemistry, Biology and Physics. So a student who gets these results and scores well in the HPAT may get into medicine, while the student who got all A1s and didn’t score well in the HPAT is left disappointed. This cannot be considered fair.

“Furthermore, the impact of the HPAT is skewing the points system. We now have a situation where students accept a college course in a related field, then repeat the HPAT, and go on to vacate their original course when they manage to score higher in the exam. This is pushing up points and means the vacated college places are being wasted, which has financial repercussions for the State.

“An urgent decision on the future of the HPAT needs to be made, both in the interest of those preparing to sit their Leaving Cert and those who are cramming to re-sit the exam. If a decision is taken to scrap the HPAT, it must be phased out. Scrapping it in one fell swoop this year would be entirely unfair. I note from the Minister’s response that an interim report on the HPAT system is due to be published in the websites of the medical schools within the coming days, and that any changes to the test would have to be agreed by the Academic Councils from the five institutions involved. I believe a decision to either get rid of the test or amend it so it is fit for purpose must be made without delay.”

Parents and legislators need to be vigilant to ensure children are protected from cyber stalkers

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) said that legislators and parents need to be more vigilant against the threat posed to children by cyber stalkers. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking in the Dáil during the Second Stage debate on the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012.

“This Bill is further evidence that this Government values our young and vulnerable and it is an immense pity that it took the abuse of countless children to get us to this point. The publication of the wording of the Children’s Referendum today underlines the Government’s determined effort to better safeguard our children.

“Two particular aspects of the National Vetting Bureau Bill will make considerable differences to the way people working with children are hired. Firstly, it allows for ‘specified information’ to be taken into account. Furthermore, ‘soft information’ which would include details on a person gathered during a Garda inquiry, but where there was no conviction, can also be taken into account. The second crucial element of the Bill is the fact that it will enforce criminal sanctions on those who do not properly use the new vetting system.

“Concerns have been aired regarding the possible consequences of this new vetting legislation, with the suggestion that internet grooming and cyber stalking may increase as a result. This undoubtedly poses challenges for both legislators and parents; we all need to be more vigilant to ensure children are protected from this terrible threat. As legislators, we need to do our utmost to protect our youth from the harmful effects of not just internet grooming, but also from sites that promote harmful behaviour.

“Step by step, this Government is addressing the gaping holes in our child protection system. The National Vetting Bureau Bill is a crucial part of that process. We must now consider the next steps and ensure we are proactive about emerging threats to our children.”

Mitchell O’Connor welcomes announcement of date for Children’s Referendum

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Tuesday) welcomed the announcement from An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, in the Dáil this afternoon that the Children’s Referendum is to be held on Saturday, November 10th. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor also commended the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, for the large volume of work she has been carrying out on the Referendum to date.

“I am delighted to get confirmation from the Taoiseach that the Children’s Referendum is to be held on November 10
th. It is a positive and a progressive move for the Government to hold the Referendum on a Saturday; a move that I have been advocating in recent months.

“This Children’s Referendum is long overdue. In many ways it is hard to believe that we have gone so long without enshrining children ’s rights in the Constitution. Passing the Referendum will have a profound impact on the way children are treated in this country; by the State, by our legal profession and by all who work with children. It will ensure we all take a child-centred approach, by making children the focus of every decision that is taken about their welfare.

“We now have a sufficient period of time to fully debate the issues surrounding the Children’s Referendum. I would encourage politicians of all persuasions and members of the public to read the wording when it is published in the coming days. This is a very important step for this country, and I will be strongly encouraging all of my constituents to endorse it.”

Mitchell O’Connor questions fairness of HPAT test for aspiring medical students

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Sunday) questioned the fairness of the HPAT (health professionals’ admission test), saying it has become a revenue generator for online coaching courses and is further skewing the points system, rather than serving as an effective selection tool.

“I have serious doubts about the HPAT system, and I am very concerned that the test has simply become a revenue generator for expensive online coaching courses. I would echo the view of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, that the exam is adding yet another financial barrier to students hoping to embark on a career in medicine.

“The HPAT exam was introduced in 2009, under the premise of being a test that would identify students that are best suited to medicine; who in effect have the right personality and manner for the job. In the intervening three years, expensive coaching courses offering ‘HPAT prep’ have sprung up online, adding yet another financial hurdle to successfully gaining entry to a medical course.

“We now have a situation where a student who has achieved the maximum 625 points in the Leaving Cert cannot use those points to their full capacity due to the way the system is calculated. The minimum requirement for entry to some medical courses is an Honours C3 in Chemistry, Biology and Physics. So a student who gets these results and scores well in the HPAT may get into medicine, while the student who got all A1s and didn’t score well in the HPAT is left disappointed. How is this fair?

“There are a number of anomalies in the HPAT system. I have requested information about the exam from the Department of Education, but I was turned down because the Department does not administer the test. In the second part of the HPAT exam, which focuses on empathy questions, girls are outscoring boys. Does this necessarily mean women make better doctors? Furthermore, foreign students do not have to sit the HPAT exam, even though they will most likely be working in our hospital system. Why shouldn’t they be subject to the same entrance criteria?

“Surely it is the responsibility of our third level institutions to ensure medical students leave college with the requisite skills and professional manner to work as doctors. As a former school principal, I know the incredible effort young ambitious people put into their Leaving Cert exam. In my view, those who have scored the maximum amount of points have proved they have the commitment and work ethic to be a doctor.

“The HPAT exam was supposed to open up access to medical courses, but I am concerned it is having the opposite effect. Recent reports suggest more than 50% of HPAT candidates take coaching courses, putting them in a superior position to those who cannot afford it. As a result the HPAT exam means the playing field for getting into medicine is more unequal than ever. I think it is time we reviewed the system, and consider who it is really benefitting. ”

Cabinteely Tidy Towns declared overall winner in Tidy Districts Competition 2012

At a Tidy Districts Awards ceremony held for over 100 members of 42 local groups across the county, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council announced that Cabinteely Tidy Towns is the overall winner of the Tidy Districts Competition 2012.

Cabinteely Tidy Towns are no strangers to the competition winning best smaller urban centre for the last three years! Commenting on the award, the judging panel said that the group had shown great teamwork for the upkeep and maintenance of the village and surrounding area by working closely with the County Council, local schools, businesses and fellow residents associations.

This is the 20th Tidy Districts Awards with over 100 people from 42 different groups represented. Eighteen residential category prizes have been awarded to groups throughout the County (see attached list). Residents Associations and Tidy Towns Groups and schools between them received award money to the “tidy” sum of €8,600.

‘We are very proud of all the estates and tidy towns groups who entered this years competition, said An Cathaoirleach Cllr. Tom Joyce, speaking at the awards ceremony. ‘The standard increases every year and even with these tough times, it is very impressive to see groups of individuals who still make time to add value to their local communities by taking responsibility for their local environment.‘

“The Tidy Districts Competition gives the Council the opportunity to reward the hard working residents associations and tidy towns groups in the County. These groups take an active interest in and responsibility for their own local environments. Building this type of partnership with the Council increases the sustainability of the progress achieved and results in long term environmental improvement in the estates, towns or villages.” says Kate Hynes, Environmental Awareness Officer, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

  • Overall Winner Tidy Districts 2012 – Cabinteely Tidy Towns
  • Best Small Town (1st) – Cabinteely Tidy Towns

Mitchell O’Connor welcomes plans for new tourist office in Dun Laoghaire

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Friday) welcomed confirmation that a new tourist office is to be installed in the town’s County Hall. It’s hoped the new office will be opened next spring.

“I am delighted to receive confirmation that Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is planning to refurbish a section of the County Hall to use as a tourist office. The move is part of an initiative which has seen Fáilte Ireland working with local councils, community groups and businesses across the country to provide tourist information services. Already, 30% of the existing Tourist Information Offices nationwide have been taken over by local groups, with the help of Fáilte Ireland.

“The provision of the new office will be a great boost to the local community in Dun Laoghaire, particularly after the Trojan efforts to keep the Joyce Martello Tower this summer. The challenges facing the Tower were met with an incredible response by local volunteers who rallied together to ensure the museum could remain open.

“The altruistic spirit displayed by these volunteers is something Dun Laoghaire can really be proud of, and I have no doubt that this same spirit will play a role in the successful operation of the new tourist office. There is a deep sense of local pride in Dun Laoghaire and a strong recognition that it’s not only a great place to live, but a great place to visit.

“The provision of a tourist office will help to provide visitors with useful information about the area, and it will add to the overall offering of the town. As well as a beautiful setting, great restaurants and cafes and historical attractions like the Joyce Tower, Dun Laoghaire will now be able to provide visitors with advice and information on how to spend their time locally.

“Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is currently preparing tender documents for the new facility, and it’s hoped the tourist office can be opened by spring 2013.”