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THE IRISH EMIGRANT :: December 22, 2008 | Print |  Email
Monday, 22 December 2008


Issue No.1,142 - the complete edition

THE IRISH EMIGRANT

December 22, 2008        Issue No.1,142

The free news service for the global Irish community

Editor: Liam Ferrie                      ©2008 Irish Emigrant Ltd

 

Contents

Summary

Headline Stories

  • Taoiseach launches recovery plan
  • Bleak economic future predicted by ESRI
  • Minister announces bank recapitalisation plan
  • Seán FitzPatrick resigns from Anglo Irish Bank
  • Three murders in three days

Bits and Pieces

  • Minister held at gunpoint
  • Supermarkets withdraw bottled water
  • €6m heroin seizure at Dublin Port
  • Sex abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne report published
  • Sophie Toscan du Plantier's parents arrive for anniversary
  • Memorial to soldier killed by the IRA in 1983
  • Rising costs cause Bothar to consider other option
  • Dublin council turns down development offer
  • Trainee soldiers claiming "rights" regarding safety
  • Waterford Traveller feud escalates
  • Now it's the turn of beef
  • Snippets:
  • National Lottery Winning Numbers:

Northern News

  • Rabies confirmed in Belfast
  • North's gas and electricity prices fall
  • Record increase in Northern jobless
  • Remains identified as those of IRA victim
  • CFAD claims success with drug dealers
  • Co. Down system holds renewable energy record
  • 15 years for 2006 kidnap
  • Guilty plea from loyalist brothers
  • Job losses and Christmas shut-down
  • Road deaths in Counties Derry and Down

The Courts

  • No share in Lotto jackpot for Mayo man
  • Noel O'Gara in and out of court
  • Life sentence for Clonmel murder
  • Sentencing adjourned in Limerick gun case
  • Two in court after seizure of ammunition and explosives
  • Judgement awaited in Joe O'Reilly appeal
  • Equality Authority appeals High Court decision on golf club
  • Cork woman loses action on State liability for sex abuse
  • Ten years for fatal stabbing
  • Other cases:

Employment & Industrial Relations

  • 315 new jobs for Ennis
  • IBEC criticises ICTU proposal on minimum wage
  • In State employment - anything goes
  • 200 pharma jobs for Athlone
  • No pension for man charged with post office robbery

Politics & Politicians

  • More profligate spending by FÁS reported
  • Politicians risk health for pig farmers
  • EU deal welcomed by Irish fishing industry

Health

  • HSE requires greater savings in 2009

Travel & Tourism

  • Never Drink and Drive song launched
  • Dublin to have country's first indoor winter resort
  • Savings needed at CIÉ group
  • Ryanair and Aer Lingus exchange insults

The Irish Abroad

  • President completes US west coast visit
  • Conservation & The Environment
  • Wicklow farmer fined over illegal waste

Education

  • School building programme expedited
  • Gaelscoil protesters follow Minister home

Entertainment & The Arts

  • 02 venue opens in Dublin

Deaths

  • Death of Conor Cruise O'Brien
  • Road safety campaigner dies
  • Road death in Co. Leitrim

Business News

  • Pyramid investment scheme becomes unstuck
  • Consumer caution leads to 7.4% fall in sales
  • Another troubled day for AIB credit cardholders

Weather

S P O R T

  • Golf
  • Sailing

This should be the Christmas edition with space to include a few lightweight stories but much of the past week's news was quite depressing and there is little light at the end of the tunnel.

Most of the gloom arises from the state of the economy and problems in the regulation of the banking system. The latest Quarterly Economic Commentary from the ESRI managed to be even more pessimistic than the one published three months ago. Early in the week Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan announced that €10bn was available to recapitalise the banks and then the Taoiseach Brian Cowen published a programme for economic recovery without cheering anyone up. Following that was the story of the week with the resignation of the chairman of Anglo Irish Bank over the way he handled an €87m loan. He wasn't the only one to resign and more may yet follow.

Late on Sunday the Government announced details of a €5.5bn recapitalisation plan for Anglo Irish Bank, Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland.

Over a three-day period four people were murdered and none was related to any of the ongoing series of gangland feuds. Arrests were made and charges brought in each case.

Many thanks to all those who have already responded very generously to our appeal for support. If you haven't yet contributed and wish to help defray the substantial costs associated with this publication please visit our website .

With that I wish you a Happy and Peaceful Christmas although we will be sending an ecard with the President's Christmas message in the next day or two.

Taoiseach launches recovery plan

Taoiseach Brian Cowen called a press conference at Dublin Castle on Thursday to launch the Government's plans for rebuilding the economy. The document, entitled "Building Ireland’s Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal" , presented a vision of what is believed to be achievable, but critics slammed it for failing to propose any actions to ease the immediate pressures on the economy. It wasn't, however, intended to offer solutions to the current crisis as Mr Cowen explained in his opening remarks: "If we have a clear vision of where we want to be after this period, it will guide our thinking and actions in the difficult period ahead".

The item in the plan which grabbed most attention was the Taoiseach's goal of making Ireland "the world’s leading location for business innovation". A key part of this is the availability of €500m in R&D investment to start-up companies over the next ten years. When it was his turn to speak, Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Éamon Ryan, of the Green Party, made it clear that much of the innovation will be centred on green energy. The Government sees this approach contributing to three goals; creating wealth and employment, providing an affordable alternative to fossil fuel as it increases in price, and ensuring that Ireland meets its greenhouse gas emission targets.

As the Government seeks Irish and international investors in R&D projects it will limit the tax take to 15% when these investments bear fruit. This is the lowest in the EU and equals the rate applying in the US. In its own spending on the National Development Plan the Government will pay special attention to the employment opportunities offered by each project.

In the absence of action to alleviate the immediate problems, Mr Cowen spoke of how he hoped to obtain consensus with the social partners. He will be meeting with employers, trade union leaders and others in January and hopes to reach agreement by the end of the month. The purpose of these meetings is "to close the gap in the public finances".

Mr Cowen appears to be looking to the unions to act responsibly in relation to the public sector pay bill. It is unclear whether this means abandoning a wage deal which was unrealistic when it was agreed, or if he hopes to go further and seek pay cuts as recommended by the ESRI.

The Taoiseach finished his speech by saying, “I appeal to all those in positions of leadership, all those in a position of influence and, most importantly, ordinary decent people the length and breadth of the country, to join with me in a national effort, as we take the necessary difficult decisions that will lead us onto the path to economic renewal and to a prosperous future for ourselves and our children”.

In the aftermath of the launch there was much criticism of the failure to give any hints as to how the Government planned to bring public spending under control. Some of the adverse comments could have been side-stepped if Mr Cowen had indicated what he expected to achieve in next month's talks with the social partners. As it is, it sounds as if he will be thankful for any concessions the trade union movement might offer.

The business sector generally welcomed the plan, Trade unionists were, for the most part, noncommittal although ICTU general secretary David Begg thought it too business oriented, without explaining how else we will create jobs and wealth.

Bleak economic future predicted by ESRI

In its Quarterly Economic Commentary for Winter 2008 , the Economic and Social Research Institute produces forecasts which, it says, illustrate how "the Irish economy is in the midst of a contraction that is large by both historic and international comparisons".

For 2009, GNP is expected to fall by 4.6% in volume terms, on top of an anticipated contraction of 2.6% in 2008. On employment, the prediction is for a fall of 117,000 in 2009 which will be consistent with net outward migration of 50,000. The unemployment rate will average 9.4%.

It is expected that the General Government Deficit will be 6.9% of GDP in 2008 and 10.2% in 2009, with government debt reaching 47.5% of GDP in 2009, up from 24.8% in 2007.

Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, will be negative, at -2%. For the economy as a whole, zero wage growth is predicted in 2009. However, as wages in the public sector will show an increase during 2009 as a result of a recent increase, it is anticipated that wages will fall in the private sector next year.

The economists at the ESRI call for a renegotiation of the national wage agreement as it will be difficult for the Government to pay the 3.5% increase due next September. In fact they go further and see pay cuts in the public sector as preferable to cuts in services. Such an approach, they say, could yield expenditure savings more rapidly than an approach based solely on job cuts through natural wastage, early retirements and redundancy schemes.

The ESRI believes there is, in fact, substantial scope for wage cuts as, comparing like with like, public servants have a 20% pay advantage. 

Minister announces bank recapitalisation plan

Last Sunday night Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan announced that a €10bn fund was now available for the recapitalisation of the country's banks. He didn't give a great deal of detail other than that the money will come from the National Pension Reserve Fund, private investors and existing shareholders.

Banks that wish to participate in the recapitalisation plan must submit proposals in January. Each application will then be viewed on merit, with those institutions seen as most essential to the wellbeing of the economy being given priority.

The Minister's announcement came after a week in which bank shares continued to weaken, with Anglo Irish Bank particularly badly hit. Its share price fell to 28 cent at one stage and had closed the week at 37.7 cent. News of the recapitalisation plan saw Anglo's shares increase by almost 17% but a six cent rise wasn't much for a stock that traded at more than €18 within the past two years. By the close of business on Monday any gains had been lost.

In another development, Anglo Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks were ejected from the FTSEurofirst 300 Index of top European shares following the collapse in their share prices and market capitalisations in recent months. The three banks will be removed from the index today.

Just before going to press on Sunday night the Government announced details of the recapitalisation of the three main banks. The State will take a majority stake in Anglo Irish Bank with an investment of €1.5bn. This will give the State 75% of the voting rights. €2bn will be invested in Allied Irish Bank with the same amount going into Bank of Ireland. This will give the State 25% voting rights in each bank. 

In the case of Anglo Irish the State will receive a dividend of 10% per year, while for the other two banks it will receive 8%. The funds will come from the National Pension Reserve Fund. The plan is that the banks will buy back the preference shares within five years. The initial reaction is that this is likely to be a good deal for the State.

Seán FitzPatrick resigns from Anglo Irish Bank

The situation at Anglo Irish Bank went from bad to worse on Thursday night when Seán FitzPatrick resigned as chairman over a loan which he had hidden from external auditors to avoid publicity. For eight years to 2007 a loan of €87m was transferred to another bank prior to each end-of-year audit so that the bank's auditors were never aware that the CEO and later chairman had a loan arrangement with the bank.

The loan was taken out jointly with Lar Bradshaw, a non-executive director with the bank, and he too resigned although he was unaware of the arrangement to hide the loan.

In a statement Anglo Irish Bank said that while no law was broken the arrangement was inappropriate. Accountant Dónal O'Connor, who joined the board in June, was quickly appointed chairman in succession to Mr FitzPatrick.

Questions were quickly asked as to who else knew about the arrangement and those questions, although not answered, led to the resignation of the bank's CEO David Drumm.

When it emerged that the Irish Nationwide Building Society was the financial institution which provided the short term €87m loan facility each year, more questions were asked. One was whether INBS chief executive Michael Fingleton had approved the arrangement. This and other questions received a composite response which stated that no impropriety took place and no INBS director had a reciprocal arrangement with Anglo Irish.

The next revelation was that the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority first became aware of the loan transfer arrangement as long ago as January. Despite this Mr FitzPatrick was allowed to remain in office and neither the IFSRA board nor Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was informed. This has brought calls for the resignation of IFSRA chief executive Pat Neary. That may yet come to pass as the IFSRA board has established a committee "to undertake an urgent review of these events and the regulatory response" and to report within three weeks. It has also instigated a review of how directors' loans are treated at other Irish financial institutions.

The news of Mr FitzPatrick's resignation led, in percentage terms, to another dramatic drop in the bank's share price. In early trading on Friday it had fallen from 32 cent to 27 cent. By the close of business it was back up to 33 cent.

Despite, or perhaps because of all these developments, Anglo Irish Bank appears to be at the top of the list for recapitalisation. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan hinted as much on Friday and Saturday's Irish Times claimed that the State is about to become the majority shareholder in the bank, with a €3bn capital injection. With a total of €10bn available there is concern in some quarters that such a large portion should be used on one of the smaller banks.

Three murders in three days

Three people were murdered in the Republic between Monday and Wednesday while also on Monday a Polish immigrant was murdered in a house in Omagh.

A row outside a pub in Glenamaddy, Co. Galway at about 1:30am on Monday resulted in the death of Frank Fahy (20), who was from the Co. Galway town. A 30-year-old man was also injured and a 45-year-old man was arrested. It is suggested Mr Fahy was acting as peacemaker when he was stabbed

Later in the week Patrick Doherty (45), of Clooncon West, Glenamaddy was charged with murdering Mr Fahy and with assault causing harm to Gerard Costello, also of Glenamaddy. Doherty was remanded in custody until January 2.

Also on Monday gardaí were called to a house in Howth, Co. Dublin, where they found  a woman, later named as Celine Cawley (46), lying on the patio with serious head injuries. Ms Cawley was taken to Beaumont hospital where she was pronounced dead a short time later at 11:00am.

The alarm had been raised by Ms Cawley's husband, Éamon Lillis (51), who told gardaí that he had driven their 16-year-old daughter to school and then took the family dog for a walk. When he returned to the house, he claimed, he disturbed a  balaclava-clad intruder, adding that, after a brief tussle which left Mr Lillis with a facial injury, the intruder escaped down a nearby laneway. Early on Saturday gardaí reported that a 50-year-old man had been arrested in connection with Ms Cawley's death. On Sunday Éamon Lillis was charged with the murder of his wife and will appear in court tomorrow.

The victim was a well-known business woman who owned Toytown Films, one of the country's more successful commercial production companies. Her earlier career had also taken her into modelling and acting. During their investigation gardaí found a blood stained brick which they believe was the murder weapon.

At about 7:00pm on Wednesday gardaí in Dublin were called to premises on Ranelagh Road, used as accommodation for homeless men, and found Rebecca Hoban (28) suffering from stab wounds. The injured woman was taken to St Vincent's Hospital where she died a short time later.

The man who had called gardaí to the scene was arrested. Later Clive Butcher (43), a British national with an address on Ranelagh Road where the killing took place, appeared in court charged with murder and was remanded in custody. One report suggested that the victim and accused were known to each other and had been drinking prior to the incident.

In what appeared to be a domestic incident in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, at around 3:00am on Monday, Marek Adam Seweryn (37), a Polish national, received a fatal stab wound. In the aftermath a 36-year-old woman was said to be "helping police with their inquiries".

Later Aneta Sadouska (36), also a Polish national, was charged with murder. According to one report the couple had been partying with friends throughout Sunday, celebrating the christening of their baby son. The party had moved to a flat in a house off Hospital Road in Omagh where the incident took place. Ms Sadouska was remanded in custody and her baby is being cared for by the authorities.

 

Bits and Pieces

Minister held at gunpoint

Three men, one armed with a sawn-off shotgun, held up members of staff and guests at the Marriot Hotel Druids Glen on Monday morning, and escaped with an undisclosed sum of money. Among the guests who were held at gunpoint was Minister of State for European Affairs Dick Roche. He uses the hotel pool for his morning swim and was about to leave when the robbers arrived.

No shots were fired and no one was injured during the incident.

Supermarkets withdraw bottled water

Following tests carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland three supermarkets have withdrawn certain stocks of bottled water. "Very low levels" of coliform were found in water produced by Shannon Minerals which had been on the shelves of Superquinn, Aldi and Lidl. The decision to remove the water was taken as a precautionary measure as the water did not pose an actual health threat.

€6m heroin seizure at Dublin Port

Two men, both Dutch nationals, were arrested at Dublin Port shortly after 9:30pm on Tuesday, when garda units and customs officials stopped and searched two trucks. The planned operation revealed 30kg of heroin, worth an estimated €6m, hidden in a consignment of flowers. The two men, aged 39 and 55, can be detained for questioning for a week.

Sex abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne report published

On Wednesday the Irish Examiner carried the banner "ABUSE REPORT IN LIMBO" over a story about a review of the way in which sex abuse claims were handled in the Diocese of Cloyne. The report was completed by a church body, the National Board of Safeguarding Children, and submitted to Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews. The minister said he couldn't publish it as he did not commission it. A spokesman for the Diocese of Cloyne took the same stance.  NBSC CEO Ian Elliot explained that the report was prepared following an "alert" by the Department of Health.

The NBSC did publish the report later in the week. Bishop John Magee of Cloyne reacted by offering an apology to the victims of clerical abuse. The NBSC report found that the diocese had put children at risk by not dealing effectively with allegations of abuse by priests. One of the main findings of the report was that diocesan meetings concerning abuse focused solely on the needs of the accused priest, rather than taking into account the vulnerability of the children.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier's parents arrive for anniversary

The parents of murdered Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier arrived in Cork on Wednesday as they have done at this time of year since their daughter was beaten to death near her holiday home outside Schull on December 23, 2006. Georges and Margaret Bouniol, who are now in their 80s, are still hopeful that their daughter's killer will be convicted. This hope has increased now that the garda file on the case has been handed to the French police.

This year an all-night candlelit vigil is planned for the spot where the film producer's body was found.

Memorial to soldier killed by the IRA in 1983

Tuesday was the 25th anniversary of a gun battle between the IRA and members of the security forces in Derrada Woods, Co. Leitrim, which resulted in the deaths of a soldier and trainee garda Gary Sheehan, and the freeing of kidnap victim Don Tidey. The retired businessman was in Moate, Co. Westmeath on Tuesday for the formal opening of the Patrick Kelly Memorial Park. Private Kelly (35), a native of Moate, was the soldier who died from gunshot wounds.

Also at the ceremony was Private Kelly's widow Caitriona who came home from London. She was left to bring up four sons and moved to London soon after being widowed. Her sons, now aged from 25 to 34, are back living in Ireland and she hopes to join them in the near future.

Rising costs cause Bothar to consider other option

The charity Bothar, which transports livestock to Africa and eastern Europe, is considering increasing the numbers of animal embryos it exports, in response to rising freight costs. Grants manager Conor O'Donoghue stated that the charity had been exporting animal embryos for implantation in native cattle since it was established, and they might now increase the ratio of embryo to live transportations.

Dublin council turns down development offer

The Irish Times reports that Dublin City Council has turned down an offer by Corcoran Jennison to complete three projects which were to have been developed under a Public Private Partnership with Bernard McNamara. The Boston company was an underbidder on two of the projects and has now offered to redevelop the sites at St Michael's Estates, O'Devaney Gardens and Dominick Street.

Miles Byrne, development director of Corcoran Jennison, claimed that Dublin City Council was intent in going ahead with the repackaging of the original plans that resulted in dysfunctional communities. He argued that the communities would remain stigmatised unless the areas are redeveloped with a combination of social and private  housing.

Trainee soldiers claiming "rights" regarding safety

A report from the Independent Monitoring Group has found that some Defence Forces instructors believe complaints systems are weighted in the favour of new recruits, leading to "softer" training methods. The recruits are said to be quicker to challenge instructions on the grounds of health and safety, although this is not the view taken by Acting Defence Forces Chief of Staff Major General Pat O'Sullivan. He expressed himself "delighted" with the level of professionalism and commitment encountered in our troops in Chad and Kosovo. The IMG report also noted a dramatic decrease in the instances of bullying in the Defence Forces.

Waterford Traveller feud escalates

The feud among Traveller families in Waterford has reached what many consider a new low. Two ponies were so badly hacked with slash hooks that both had to be put down. According to reports the leg of one of the animals was severed.

Travellers value their horses so highly that there is a fear that this action will lead to a major escalation of the feud, which started as a result of a dispute over the outcome of a bare-knuckle fight in July.

Now it's the turn of beef

With pork back on our shelves it is the turn of beef from some farms to be withdrawn due to the presence of dioxins. Beef from the 21 herds of cattle, which had been fed contaminated material from the Co. Carlow plant which had also supplied pig farmers, has been withdrawn. The action follows the results of dioxin tests carried out in Britain, but Food Safety Authority of Ireland deputy chief executive Alan Reilly said the levels did not present a risk to public health.

Snippets:

  • Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork Patricia Gosch is calling for the retention of the Beamish and Crawford brewery in the city as a major tourist attraction.
  • Rossbeigh Strand on Co. Kerry has become shorter as the tide has washed through dunes near the far end.  Part of the spit is now an island.
  • Gardaí recovered a motorcycle and shotgun used by two would-be robbers who fled after trying to hold up a cash-transit van at Artane Shopping Centre at around 9:00am on Tuesday. No shots were fired, no one was injured, and no one was arrested.
  • The High Court has ruled against street traders on Dublin's Henry Street who had challenged the City Council's ban on the use of diesel generators to power Christmas lights on their stalls. Many of the traders had bought the generators in previous years on the advice of the council, which has now changed the rules.
  • Gardaí On Thursday night arrested a 28-year-old man and seized heroin believed to be valued at €1.6m in a planned operation on the Roscommon side of Carrick-on-Shannon. A car was stopped at about 8:30pm and a search uncovered 8kg of heroin. The driver, who had a Dublin address, was arrested.

National Lottery Winning Numbers:

  • Wed: 2, 9, 11, 14, 32, 39 (5) - the jackpot of €2.61m was not won
  • Sat:  5, 9, 19, 35, 36, 43 (16) - there was one winner of the jackpot of €3.48m

 

Northern News

Rabies confirmed in Belfast

Lisa McMurray, who is in her 30s and from the greater Belfast area, is critically ill in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital after being diagnosed as having rabies.  It is believed she became infected some months ago on a visit to Africa where she bitten by a monkey in an animal sanctuary.

The last confirmed case of rabies in the North was in 1938.

North's gas and electricity prices fall

Substantial cuts were announced in the North's gas and electricity prices on Monday. The recent decline in the price of fossil fuels on world markets has prompted a 22% cut in gas prices and a 10% reduction in electricity prices.

This is in stark contrast with the position in the South where Ann Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of the National Consumer Agency, referred to the announcement, that gas prices wouldn't increase and that electricity would fall by less than 1%, as "very welcome news".

Record increase in Northern jobless

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in the North increased by 10% in November, to 34,100. The 3,100 new claimants amounted to the largest monthly increase for 28 years. One third of those signing on for the first time came from the construction sector.

The North, with its high dependence on public sector jobs, still has a lower unemployment rate than Britain or the Republic.

Remains identified as those of IRA victim

The human remains found last month in the Wicklow Mountains, as a result of a search conducted under the direction of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, have been confirmed as those of Danny McIlhone. This news was released following the completion of DNA tests. The 19-year-old Belfast youth was shot dead by the IRA in 1981 and was known as one of the "Disappeared".

CFAD claims success with drug dealers

According to Concerned Families Against Drugs, a total of 20 people in north Belfast, aged from 17 to 40, have admitted to being drug dealers and have vowed to stop. CFAD sent letters to known drug dealers asking them to stop, and had let it be known that the recipients could go to the Holy Cross Monastery in Ardoyne to discuss their problems. Members of the community group also visited the homes of some of the alleged drug dealers and removed drugs from the premises; letters were also written to neighbours of known drug dealers.

Co. Down system holds renewable energy record

The tidal stream turbine, which was placed in Strangford Lough earlier in the year, has broken the world record for the production of renewable energy. The SeaGen turbine is now producing 1.2 megawatts of electricity, enough energy for 1000 homes.

15 years for 2006 kidnap

Joseph Barr (22) received a 15-year sentence when he was convicted of taking part in a kidnapping in 2006. Barr and two other men broke into the apartment of Elaine Devine and Amanda Parke in Strabane, and forced Ms Devine to empty the safe at the post office where she worked. It has now emerged that five years ago Barr was arrested and charged with membership of the Real IRA and the year prior to the tiger kidnapping he was charged with possession of explosives with intent to endanger life.

Guilty plea from loyalist brothers

In Belfast Crown Court on Friday, brothers David (34) and Robert Stewart (38) pleaded guilty to a number of charges including aiding and abetting the murder of fellow-loyalist Tommy English in 2000, and being members of the UVF for a period of 12 years up to last year. The prosecution of the Stewart brothers is the first to be brought before the courts by the Historical Enquiry Team.

Job losses and Christmas shut-down

  • Japanese-owned AVX, which makes ceramic capacitors at its plant in Coleraine, Co. Derry, is to have a two-week shutdown over the Christmas period and will also make 92 employees redundant. The company once employed almost 1,000 at the Co. Derry plant.
  • The three MFI furniture stores in the North are to close with the loss of 80 jobs.
  • A further 400 retail staff are expected to lose their jobs as the hunt for a buyer for Woolworths has drawn a blank. The group has stores in Armagh, Lurgan, Newry, Ballymena, Enniskillen, Derry, Strabane, Bangor, Newtownards, Lisburn, Belfast, Banbridge, Dungannon and Coleraine.

Road deaths in Counties Derry and Down

  • Éamon McIntyre (17) died on Wednesday when the van he was driving was in collision with a truck on the road between Garvagh and Ringsend in Co. Derry. At the time of the crash Éamon was driving two friends to a school formal; all three were students at Loreto College in Coleraine.
  • On Friday Charlie Annett (79), a farmer from Ballymartin, Co. Down, died when the car he was driving was in collision with a van just outside the village, between Kilkeel and Annalong.

The Courts

No share in Lotto jackpot for Mayo man

The Supreme Court has ruled that Martin Horan, of Bohola, Co. Mayo, is not entitled to a one fifth share of a €2m lottery prize, as he was not a member of the syndicate which purchased the winning ticket. The fact that the sum invested each week had dropped from £7.50 to £6 helped the court in making its decision.

Horan had been in arrears with his contributions and had been dropped from the syndicate three months before the win in January 2001. Following the win he sought a share and when this was refused resorted to the law. The High Court ruled that he was entitled to a share but this has now been overturned by the Supreme Court.  Horan is now liable for legal costs estimated to be around €500k.

Noel O'Gara in and out of court

Businessman Noel O'Gara, from Ballinahown, Co. Westmeath, was in court on Monday on a charge of auditing four companies while disqualified. The case, taken by the Director of Corporate Enforcement, was adjourned until January 16, due to a lack of time.

Later in the week O'Gara was fined €1k for failing to remove tents which he erected in Dartmouth Square. The case was taken by Dublin City Council. O'Gara says he will appeal. He told one journalist that the tents were exempt from planning permission and another that the tents actually belonged to his gardeners.

Life sentence for Clonmel murder

Alex Freiberg (30) from Clonmel, Co Tipperary has been given a life sentence after being convicted o the murder of Kieran Cambridge in September 2007. The court heard that Mr Freiberg went to the Clonmel house of his former girlfriend, Catherine Shanahan, armed with two knives, and fatally stabbed Mr Cambridge, her new partner.

Sentencing adjourned in Limerick gun case

At Limerick Circuit Criminal Court on Wednesday Judge Carroll Moran adjourned sentencing until January 20 in the case in which Liam Keane (21), of Ballysimon in Limerick, is charged with possession of a Glock semi-automatic pistol which had been used in a shooting incident two weeks prior to being found in Keane's car. Keane also pleaded guilty to having a stolen car on the same date in May of last year and his co-accused, Greg Crawford, pleaded guilty to having the Glock in the car.

Keane is the member of the Keane-Collopy gang. He once walked free from court after witnesses refused to testify against him when he went on trial for murder.

Two in court after seizure of ammunition and explosives

In a planned operation gardaí stopped a car on the outskirts of Kells, Co. Meath at around 11.30pm on Wednesday and seized a quantity of explosives and detonators. Three men who were in the car were arrested.

Later in the week one of the three was released while Emmett Reilly (18), from Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan was charged with possession of 2.5kg of Semtex explosive, and John Fallon (32), from Carrickaboy, Co. Cavan, was charged with possession of 500 rounds of ammunition.

Judgement awaited in Joe O'Reilly appeal

The Court of Criminal Appeal on Thursday heard the appeal by Joe O'Reilly, of The Naul in north Co. Dublin, against his conviction for the October 2004 murder of his wife, Rachel. The hearing concluded on the same day but a ruling will not be made for some weeks.

O'Reilly's counsel did not appear to make any attempt to deny that his client beat Rachel O'Reilly to death but instead focused on the admissibility of evidence. For the most part the relevance of the evidence was not contested; the issue was whether it should have been allowed on technical grounds.

Equality Authority appeals High Court decision on golf club

The Equality Authority has mounted an appeal to the Supreme Court, asking that it find Portmarnock Golf Club discriminatory in its refusal to allow women members. Three years ago the High Court ruled that the club fell within exemption provisions of the Equal Status Act 2000. The first day of the hearing of submissions on the interpretation of Section 9 of the Act took place before Justice Susan Denham on Thursday.

Cork woman loses action on State liability for sex abuse

Louise O'Keeffe (43), of Dunmanway, Co. Cork, has lost her appeal against a High Court decision that the State is not responsible for sexual assaults in schools. Ms O'Keeffe had claimed that the State, and the Minister for Education, were vicariously responsible for a series of sexual assaults by head teacher Leo Hickey in 1973; the principal was jailed for three years in 1998 after pleading guilty to indecent assaults on 21 girls.

The ruling that the State cannot be held vicariously responsible was laid down by Justice Adrian Hardiman, and Ms O'Keeffe now faces a possible legal bill of €750k. While the State pays the salaries of the teachers the school is the responsibility of the patron, usually the Catholic Church.

Ten years for fatal stabbing

Finn Colclough (18), of Waterloo Road in Dublin, received a ten-year sentence following his conviction at the Central Criminal Court in November of the manslaughter of Seán Nolan, of Fairview, in May 2007. Mr Nolan, also aged 18, died from stab wounds inflicted by Colclough after stopping to ask for the loan of a bottle opener.

At the trial it was claimed that Colclough had drunk between eight and 14 alcoholic drinks at a 21st birthday party prior to the incident and that he had also smoked cannabis. Evidence was also given of Colclough's significant psychiatric problems.

Other cases:

  • Concert promoter MCD is suing pop star Prince for €1.665m, claiming this was the extent of the losses generated through the late cancellation of a concert earlier this year. More than 55,000 tickets were sold for the Croke Park concert which should have taken place on June 16.
  • The sister of the 16-year-old boy charged with the murder of Aidan O'Kane in the East Wall Road area on December 7 is to stand bail for him. The youth has been in custody in St Patrick's Institution since his arrest and charge three days after the murder. The girl had to produce €2k in bail money.
  • Convicted drug dealer John Gilligan and members of his family have lost their Supreme Court appeal against findings that their properties were purchased with the proceeds of crime. This would appear to allow the Criminal Assets Bureau to apply to dispose of the properties although Justice Hugh Geoghegan advised that the Gilligans had a possible alternative legal remedy.
  • Robert Scales (37), of Waterloo Road in Dublin, was granted bail at the Court of Criminal Appeal on Friday. Scales had appealed the severity of the two-year sentence imposed on him for the possession of ten stun guns which, he claimed, he had not realised were illegal in this country.

Employment & Industrial Relations

315 new jobs for Ennis

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan announced that Microsemi plans to create 315 new jobs over the next 18 months, at its facility in Ennis, Co.  Clare. The new positions will be in manufacturing, sales and technical support.

Microsemi designs and manufactures high performance analogue and mixed-signal  integrated  circuits (ICs) and discrete high reliability (hi-rel) semiconductors.  

IBEC criticises ICTU proposal on minimum wage

The employers' body IBEC has said that a proposal by ICTU, that the minimum wage be increased, will lead to job losses. The trade union submitted the proposal to the Labour Court before Friday's deadline, stating that the present minimum wage of €8.65 had experienced loss of value and was adrift from average earnings.

IBEC made the case for a moratorium on the national minimum wage until 2010 at the earliest.

In State employment - anything goes

An unnamed senior manager with An Post is to receive a performance-related bonus of €10,686 in respect of 2007, although he was surplus to requirements and worked for just 11 weeks during the year. Internally it had been decided that he was entitled to a 16% bonus in respect of the 11 weeks worked and he was offered 11/52 of the full-year bonus of €15,200.

The manager thought he was entitled to the full bonus and, with the backing of his union, he appealed to the Labour Relations Commission. The LRC decided that he should receive the "company performance" element in full and be paid pro rata in respect of the "personal performance" bonus.

200 pharma jobs for Athlone

Taoiseach Brian Cowen started Thursday in Athlone where he announced that a US pharmaceutical research company is to establish an operation at the IDA 's Garrycastle Business and Technology Park in the Co. Westmeath town. Pharmaceutical Product Development plans to create 200 jobs as a result of the €14m investment.

No pension for man charged with post office robbery

Matt Leen, who served a seven-year sentence in Portlaoise prison for his part in a robbery at Tralee post office 30 years ago, has been told he is not entitled to a pension to which he contributed for 16 years. Mr Leen was told that the amount taken in the robbery, plus compound interest, amounted to more than €200k, and this would have to be paid back before he can receive his pension.

According to An Post the matter is in the hands of the Department of Communications, the successor to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs which had responsibility for the post offices at the time Mr Leen was employed.

Politics & Politicians

More profligate spending by FÁS reported

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that FÁS spent €100k on sporting and entertainment events at Croke Park over the past two years. The total included €40k for four ten-year tickets for GAA matches. A larger sum was spent on tickets for individual concerts, rugby and soccer internationals held in the stadium.

The State training and employment body has now returned the ten-year tickets to Croke Park for resale, on the instructions of new interim director general Eddie Sullivan.

Politicians risk health for pig farmers

Our politicians risked their health on Tuesday morning by partaking of a huge cooked breakfast of bacon, sausage, black pudding, fried eggs, hashbrowns, tomato, baked beans and mushrooms. They felt it necessary to act in the interests of Ireland's pig farmers and pigmeat processors by demonstrating that Irish pork products are safe to eat.

Those to whom I spoke might have been impressed had the politicians actually paid for the meal.

EU deal welcomed by Irish fishing industry

The Irish fishing industry has welcomed the results of negotiations in Brussels over fish quotas, which include a quota agreement for white fish off the northwest coast and retention of the Hague Preference principle for some Irish species. 

Going into the talks there was a fear that a whitefish ban off the north west coast would mean the end of the fishing fleet at Greencastle, Co. Donegal. The Hague Preference principle gives Ireland added quota in recognition of the poor deal negotiated by Ireland on entering the EU.

Earlier in the week the EU Commission announced plans to place restrictions on sea and shore anglers. It is claimed that, with declining fish stocks, it is necessary to include fish caught by rod and line in the quotas available to commercial fishermen. It is just possible that this is an April Fool's joke released early by some official without a sense of humour. At least I hope that is the case.

Health

HSE requires greater savings in 2009

The Health Service Executive budget was a topic of conversation for the second day in a row. On Tuesday the focus was on a decision to review the need for night-time A&E units to operate in eight hospitals in Dublin and three in Cork. This was part of a more general review of costs aimed at saving €530m next year.

On Wednesday it was revealed that a further €400m in savings may be required in 2009. The €530m figure was calculated two months ago and in the ever-changing economic environment it is now accepted that additional efficiencies will have to be found. A spokesman for the HSE said that the goal is to maintain services and achieve the savings by other means.

Both stories generated a great deal of adverse comment as unions and opposition parties immediately told the public that reviews mean cutbacks rather than reform. Those who knew better argued against rationalising the number of A&E units which are open 24X7 on the basis that many patients are already waiting on trolleys in A&E units for hours and sometimes days. The problem is that these are patients who have been seen by A&E and are awaiting a bed in a ward due to rigid rules surrounding the nurse/patient ratio.

Travel & Tourism

Never Drink and Drive song launched

Songwriter Pete St John, of "Fields of Athenry" fame, was in the news with the launch of his latest song, "Never Drink and Drive". At Monday's launch singer Charlie McGettigan was joined by Road Safety Authority chairman Gay Byrne for a rendition of the song. Downloads are available at http://www.neverdrinkanddrivesong.com  

The number of deaths on Irish roads looks like falling dramatically this year. Last year the total number of fatalities was 338 while with ten days left in 2008 the total stands at 270.

Dublin to have country's first indoor winter resort

Plans for Snowtopia leisure and extreme sports centre, to be located at Tyrrelstown north east of Dublin, have been presented for planning permission and the developers hope that the facility will be open by 2010. The developer of the €100m centre is Twinlite, which has similar developments in England, and more than a million visitors are expected each year. The Park Plaza hotel will be part of the new complex, which will feature a ski slope, an ice climbing area and a rock climbing facility.

Savings needed at CIÉ group

At the launch of a new hybrid-electric double deck bus for Dublin Bus, Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey revealed that the CIE group of companies is in a "severe financial position". The issue was also mentioned in the Dáil and it seems that some routes will be dropped and redundancies are a possibility as more than €100m in savings is required. At least one politician asked why private operators could run intercity buses at a profit while Bus Éireann, with its massive amounts of State aid, manages to lose money.

The new hybrid bus runs on a relatively small diesel engine which is supported by a hybrid-electric drive system and a bank of lithium ion batteries. This week it starts a three-year trial on the 16 route between Santry and Rathfarnham.

Ryanair and Aer Lingus exchange insults

Ryanair, which owns nearly 29.8% of Aer Lingus, made its formal offer of €1.40 per share for its rival on Monday. This was two weeks after announcing that such an offer was on the table. As with the first bid two years ago, Aer Lingus rejected the offer, claiming it undervalues the company and would create a monopoly on air travel and connectivity to and from Ireland. The airline also points out that it has cash reserves of almost twice the value of the offer.

At a hearing of the Oireachtas Transport Committee Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary entertained the politicians by comparing Ryanair to Manchester United and Aer Lingus to Shamrock Rovers. He had many other choice phrases as he insisted that Ryanair would always be a low-cost airline whether or not it had direct competition on a particular route. Aer Lingus CEO Dermot Mannion followed and jokingly took exception to the Shamrock Rovers analogy, saying he was much more interested in Sligo Rovers.

Mr Mannion was warned by the committee chairman, Frank Fahey, that politicians would not look favourably on preventing the takeover if Aer Lingus failed to match the Ryanair commitment to reopen the Shannon-Heathrow  route.

Outside the meeting Aer Lingus announced plans to establish a hub at London Gatwick. One of the routes proposed is to Ireland West Airport Knock.

The Irish Abroad

President completes US west coast visit

While in Portland, Oregon last Sunday, President Mary McAleese unveiled a memorial to Famine survivors who settled in the city. The four-metre high Celtic Cross is a replica of the Cross of Scriptures at Clonmacnoise.

From there the President travelled to Phoenix Arizona, where among her engagements was a meeting with the local Irish community. Further engagements in Los Angeles brought the week-long visit to an end.

Conservation & The Environment

Wicklow farmer fined over illegal waste

Clifford Fenton of Donard, Co. Wicklow was fined €70k at Wicklow Circuit Criminal Court on Thursday after pleading guilty to allowing more than 7,000 tonnes of waste to be dumped illegally on his land; the waste included medical materials from the Mater Hospital and the Blackrock Clinic. Awaiting sentence in the same matter are the owner of Dublin Waste, Louis Moriarty, and Adrian Munnelly, the driver of the truck which delivered the waste.

Education

School building programme expedited

On Tuesday Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe announced that work is to go ahead on the construction of seven new schools under a public private partnership arrangement. The schools, in Counties Donegal, Leitrim, Galway, Wexford, Westmeath and Waterford, will provide accommodation for 4,800 pupils when they are completed in 2012.

Major R&D investments announced

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan on Wednesday announced that Science Foundation Ireland is making substantial awards, totalling €45.7m over five years, to provide second-term funding to three existing world-class research Centres for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSETs).  These grants will be supplemented by an additional contribution from industry of €14.5m, bringing the overall investment to more than €60m.

The CSETs involved are:

The Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC) at University College Cork; CRANN, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices, hosted by Trinity College, Dublin; and DERI, the Digital Enterprise Research Institute, at NUI, Galway.

Gaelscoil protesters follow Minister home

Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe has criticised a group of protesting parents and supporters from Dublin who travelled to Cork to hold a protest outside his family home in Ballincollig. The group from Gaelscoil Bharra in Cabra were calling on the Minister to provide a new school building for the school's 220 pupils.

Entertainment & The Arts

02 venue opens in Dublin

What was The Point and is now The 02 staged its first event on Tuesday with a Childline concert. However the first band to perform in concert at the new venue were the Kings of Leon, who played The 02 on Friday. Last night the headliners were Coldplay.

Deaths

Death of Conor Cruise O'Brien

The death has taken place of Conor Cruise O'Brien a former civil servant who served with the UN before entering politics in Ireland. As a member of the Labour Party he was Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in a Fine Gael-Labour coalition in the 1970s. At other times in his career he was an academic, author and journalist. He was aged 91.

Tributes were paid by President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin as well as Labour and Fine Gael politicians past and  present.

Road safety campaigner dies

Betty Cawley (52), from Blanchardstown in Dublin, has died four years after being seriously injured in a collision on the M50 which claimed the life of her daughter Erin. The driver of the other car, which crossed the central reservation, survived and was eventually convicted of dangerous driving and jailed for four months.

Although Ms Cawley never fully recovered from her injuries she took part in television advertising campaigns sponsored by the Road Safety Authority.

Road death in Co. Leitrim 

Martin Gorham (36) died at around 8:20am on Thursday when he lost control of the SUV he was driving near his home at Bornacoola, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. Mr Gorham was originally from Ballinalee, Co. Longford.

Business News

Pyramid investment scheme becomes unstuck

Breifne O'Brien, of Glenageary, Co. Dublin, on Monday agreed to a court order preventing him from reducing his assets below €20m. A number of people, who had invested money with O'Brien, had taken the case when they heard allegations that most of their investments had disappeared, either to fund O'Brien's lifestyle or to pay other investors when they sought the return of their money. Some of those involved had entrusted more than €4m each with O'Brien.

It was alleged in court that O'Brien had been operating a pyramid investment scheme over a 15-year period.

Consumer caution leads to 7.4% fall in sales

The figure for retail sales in October showed a 0.6% drop in the retail sales index in October, with an annual fall of 7.4%, according to figures released by the Central Statistics Office. Particular areas affected by reduced consumer spending were the motor trade, bars, and furniture sales.

Another troubled day for AIB credit cardholders

For the second time in a week the AIB credit card system failed, leading to problems for Christmas shoppers trying to withdraw money from ATMs or to make purchases. The failure was this time intermittent and only affected about 20% of users for most of Friday afternoon. However it led to some retailers refusing to accept either credit or debit cards for a while.

Weather

The sun failed to shine yesterday, the shortest day of the year, which was disappointing for those selected to enter the tomb at Newgrange to see the sun light up the chamber as it appeared above the horizon.

We didn't see a lot of the sun during the week and had more than our share of rain. It was, however, milder than of late and frost was never a problem.

We seem to be in for a settled spell with little rain, perhaps some in the west today, but dry after that. It will turn colder on Friday.

Latest Temperatures: Day 12C (54F).................Night 11C (52F)

S P O R T

Golf

Harrington picks up more awards

Pádraig Harrington was picking up awards again this week as he was awarded the Golf Writer's Trophy for the second year in succession.  He is only the third player to achieve this feat and the first since Peter Oosterhuis in 1973-74.  Tony Jacklin was the other player to do so in 1969-70.

Harrington later was awarded the USPGA Tour's Golfer of the Year in a poll of players.  He becomes only the fourth non American to win the trophy since its inception in 1990. 

Maybin leading Irishman in South Africa Open

Gareth Maybin was best of the Irish at the South African Open this weekend when he lost on the first play-off hole to Richard Sterne.  Maybin finished on -14 level with Sterne but was unable to finish the task.  Rory McIlroy was next best of the Irish as finished in joint second on -13.  This was enough for qualification for the US Masters next year.

Other Irish involved were Michael Hoey on -10, Damien McGrane on -9, Gary Murphy on -8 and Darren Clarke on -2.

Sailing

Green Dragon lying Sixth towards end of  Leg 3

With 172 nautical miles of leg three left Green Dragon is lying in sixth place, with little hope of improving on that at this stage. The four leading yachts are within two miles of each other and more than 50 nautical miles ahead of Green Dragon. Telefonica Black is in fifth place 16 miles ahead of the Galway-based yacht which in turn is 13 miles ahead of Team Russia. Delta Lloyd is more than 100 miles  further back.  http://volvooceanrace.geovoile.com/ 

General information about the race and the competitors is at http://www.volvooceanrace.org/

While you can follow the progress of Galway-based Green Dragon at http://www.greendragonracing.com/en/

Or follow the plans for the Galway Stopover at http://www.letsdoitgalway.com 

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