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THE IRISH EMIGRANT :: February 6, 2012 | Print |  Email
Monday, 06 February 2012

Issue No.1,305 - the complete edition

THE IRISH EMIGRANT

February 6, 2012        Issue No.1,305

 

The free news service for the global Irish community

http://www.emigrant.ie

Editor: Liam Ferrie                      ©2012 Irish Emigrant Ltd

 

After 25 years this is our final edition and our main story this week gives us the opportunity to say thank you to all those who made the 1,305 editions possible, and I also use it to jot down a few random thoughts about the past 25 years.

On the news front 25 of the 27 EU leaders agreed the content of a new fiscal treaty and, while few here have read the document, many want a chance to vote on it in a referendum. We are awaiting the Attorney General's view on whether they should have their wish.

Almost 8,000 public servants had decided by Tuesday that they would take early retirement at the end of February. That was also a matter of great debate but much of the focus was on the imminent departure of one man, the head of the Office of Corporate Enforcement. He was quickly persuaded to remain at his post for a further six months.

Last week one of the main stories concerned the discovery of the body of a young woman in a holdall in north Dublin. Within a matter of days the garda investigation was virtually complete, following the finding of the body of the main suspect in England.

Yesterday saw the start of the Six Nations Championship, but it was a disappointing start for Irish rugby followers as they saw their team lose to a Welsh penalty with just 15 seconds of playing time remaining.

Thank you and goodbye

Wednesday February 8 will mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the Irish Emigrant and, as I announced some weeks ago, it also marks our retirement. This, then, is the final online edition of the Irish Emigrant, or at least it is the last one that we plan to write.

Time flies when you are having fun and we have enjoyed our lives as writers and publishers, careers we stumbled upon by accident, although the late Sunday nights/Monday mornings have always been a problem.

The Emigrant has been good to us in many ways. It was very satisfying to be undertaking a task that was clearly valued by so many people, and receiving messages of appreciation made sure that we continued. We always felt that we were writing to friends and indeed got to know many of you through emails or by meeting you face to face. For those of you who we have never met, if you ever visit Galway feel free to drop by and say hello.

It was good to us in that we were more than fortunate in the colleagues who passed through our various offices over the years.  We also consider them friends and are in regular contact with most of them. The same is true of freelance contributors who we only met occasionally or in a few cases not at all. I have no doubt our readers appreciate all the good work they did also.

When Digital closed its manufacturing facility in Galway in 1994, the Emigrant was also good to us in that it allowed us to remain in Galway and provided us with the wherewithal to educate our family and enjoy a reasonable standard of living - what it didn't do was make us rich, but that was never our intention and we have no complaints about that.

Twenty-five years is a long time although looking back, it all passed too quickly. When we started we had five sons at school; today we have five sons making their way in the world, two beautiful daughters-in-law and five adorable grandchildren. We have experienced emigration in that at one stage four of our sons lived abroad. Two still live overseas but we see them fairly regularly, and another undertakes a 2,000 mile commute every two weeks. As far as we are concerned life is good and we are looking forward to having more leisure time and more time to travel.

The changes that have taken place in Ireland over the 25 years have been quite dramatic but I think mostly for the better. The most positive change has been the end to the violence in the North. Another change of enormous significance is the reduction in road deaths. A total of 462 people died on Irish roads in 1987 and it wasn't until 2002 that the figure dropped below 400. Last year it was 185 despite the enormous increase in the number of vehicles.

Today those who have jobs are considerably better off than their counterparts of 1987. Even with recent cutbacks salaries, I believe, have more than kept pace with inflation and the penal tax system that was in place up until the mid-1990s is but a distant nightmare. 

We are concerned with our 14.2% unemployment rate but this actually compares favourably with 19% in 1987. It would be wrong, of course, not to acknowledge those who have lost their jobs and are having trouble meeting mortgage payments.

We are also concerned about the current level of emigration and rightly so. It is very disturbing that anyone should consider it necessary to seek employment in another part of the world solely because of the lack of opportunity at home. While it does nothing for anyone in that category or anyone who regrets their departure, the number of Irish people leaving Ireland today is well behind the number who left in 1989.

Over the years I have had to report some very disturbing news stories such as the Enniskillen and Omagh bombings. It has also been heartbreaking to report on the revelations about the many people whose lives were scarred or even destroyed by being abused by those they were entitled to trust. These stories affected all of us in different ways. In my own case my anger is confined to the perpetrators, as I have nothing but wonderful memories of the five Irish priests who served in our parish in Scotland many years ago when I was an altar boy. Indeed, I count the one who still survives as a close friend.

Going back to the positives, the structural changes in Ireland are quite remarkable. I remember in 2000 remarking that a train that I travelled on from Dublin to Galway was more entitled to be in a railway museum than some that I had seen in a museum in Sacramento a few months earlier. Today all that has changed and Iarnród Éireann has state of the art rolling stock on most, if not all, of its routes. The road network has been transformed with motorways connecting not just the main cities with Dublin but starting to link provincial cities. The houses, offices and hotels that were built in recent years are for the most part of much higher quality and of better design than in earlier times; it is a pity that we built too many of them.

In signing off we would like to thank all our readers, our former staff, our contributors (some on the payroll, others doing it for a variety of worthy reasons), our advertisers who were really the ones that made it all possible, the service companies that we used from time to time, those who participated in delivering very generous Christmas gifts to us in the early years and those who contributed to our appeals for financial support in more recent times, those who in one way or another made it possible for us to visit such places as Boston, Monaco, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Singapore (we love to travel), and those in Boston and San Francisco who put our work and names in print.

I have deliberately avoided mentioning names until now but I must single out my wife Pauline and our five sons.

Liam, Ciarán, Dónal, Eoghan and Ruairí all wrote for us at different times but they also received less attention from their father than they were entitled to, as I spent far too much of my time in front of a computer or telling them to ‘shsh' when the news was on. But back to Pauline - it wouldn't have happened without her. She proof read the first edition and virtually every one since, but over the years her role expanded to the point where she wrote a large part of each edition, wrote about 1,200 book reviews, wrote ‘Around the 32 counties' every week for some 15 years and was the company accountant. It struck me today that she had a hand in more editions than I had, as I once went on sick leave for two months and she held the fort in my absence.

With that we will say thank you and goodbye.

An alternative perhaps?

FREE sample copy: www.insideireland.com  introduces you to our unique and valuable information service and bi-monthly e-newsletter (established 1978). Please quote I.E. when making your request.

 

 

To vote or not to vote

EU leaders met on Monday in Brussels where 25 of them agreed the final wording of the new fiscal treaty aimed at ensuring the future stability of the euro, assuming it survives the current crisis; Britain and the Czech Republic opted out. While many referred to the agreement as a ‘fiscal treaty', the word ‘treaty', when combined with 'EU', has lost respectability in this country so the politicians preferred to speak about a ‘fiscal compact'.

Back here the content of the treaty or compact was of far less interest than the question of whether or not we will be asked to approve it in a referendum. Taoiseach Enda Kenny tries to be casual about it, saying that if the Attorney General decides that Constitutional change is required then we will have a referendum and if not, then there will be no referendum. He would have us believe that he will be quite happy whatever way the coin comes down.

Mr Kenny rejected suggestions that the Irish negotiators had been told to press for an agreement that would not require a change in the Constitution. That assertion seems unlikely if the views of Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar are shared among other members of the Cabinet. Last weekend he made it very clear that he was very anxious to avoid a referendum. While the electorate would, on the face of it, be asked to decide on the worth of the treaty, all sorts of extraneous issues wold come into play. Campaigners, he said, would urge a ‘No' vote in protest at septic tank charges, the household charge, education cuts, health cuts and other issues.

On past experience the Government would have difficulty in convincing the electorate to approve any change which ceded further authority to the EU. The same past experience would make other EU leaders sympathetic to framing the treaty in such a way as to avoid a referendum here. We tend to require referenda while other EU countries ratify changes through their parliaments. The last thing anyone in Europe wants is for the ratification to be delayed while we wait for an opportune time to stage a second referendum after the first is defeated.

All the Opposition parties are calling for a referendum whether or not Constitutional change is necessary. I suspect Fianna Fáil wants to have its cake and eat it on this one. If a referendum is held my guess is that the party will urge a ‘Yes' vote. Sinn Féin, the United Left Alliance and other Independents will be firmly on the ‘No' side. Since the start of the current Dáil their attitude has been one of opposing every Government decision or, on the rare occasion of finding some merit in a Government policy, the complaint is that it does not go far enough.

The Government is now awaiting the advice of Attorney General Máire Whelan as to whether a referendum is necessary. I expect she will say ‘no'. She was, after all, being given the various drafts as they became available and it would be very surprising if she wasn't providing feedback on any potential conflicts with the Constitution.

If the answer is ‘no' Sinn Féin and other ultra-left politicians say they will go to the courts in an attempt to force a referendum. It also possible that when the legislation ratifying the treaty reaches President Michael D. Higgins, he will refer it to the Supreme Court to test its Constitutionality once and for all.

Whatever acrimony existed after Mr Kenny clashed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at the Taoiseach's first European summit, seems to have evaporated as the two men were captured on camera acting as if they were the best of friends. The initial approach wasn't the best for winning friends and influencing people so this was a welcome development.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams didn't think so and in the Dáil criticised the "buddy, buddy" relationship which seemed to exist, and accused Mr Kenny of playing the "amadán" with the French leader. The Taoiseach wasn't fazed and questioned Mr Adams on the type of people he had been "buddy, buddy" with over the years, referring to those involved in the 30-year long campaign of violence. Mr Adams had no answer for that and responded by saying, "It is inappropriate for a Taoiseach to act like an eejit when he meets the French President".   

My own complaint about the new fiscal treaty is that it is merely window dressing. It assumes that Ireland and other countries set out to ignore the parameters agreed for the privilege of being a member of the Eurozone. Ireland had been adhering to all the agreed restrictions until the world economy collapsed and the Government found that its tax income plummeted. As a result it no longer had sufficient funds to meet what was being viewed as necessary expenditure. It was either a case of slashing pensions, social welfare, and public service pay combined with widespread redundancies in the public service, or breaking the Eurozone rules on borrowing.

Getting out while the going is good

A total of 7,772 public servants submitted their applications for early retirement by Tuesday's deadline and will therefore be able to enjoy enhanced pensions and larger retirement lump sums than will be on offer after that. The political and media focus was on just one of the 7,772, Paul Appleby, who belatedly decided to retire as head of the Office of Corporate Enforcement.

Mr Appleby's decision was announced on Tuesday and while his political boss, Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Richard Bruton, seemed to accept this as a fait accompli there was widespread concern that it could jeopardise the prosecution of those alleged to have committed white collar crime in the running of the former Anglo Irish Bank. Whatever was said at Cabinet that morning, it resulted in Mr Bruton having a further conversation with Mr Appleby. That concluded with the 57-year-old Mr Appleby agreeing to remain at his post for a further six months.

According to the Irish Times Mr Appleby will officially retire on February 29 and collect a lump-sum of €226k, with €200k of that tax-free. He will also go on to an annual pension of €75k (half his salary) and can look forward to increases each time pay scales in the public service are increased. In addition for the next six months he will hold the position of acting director, for which he will continue to be paid his current salary.

There was some muted criticism of Mr Appleby's decision to give just one month's notice of his decision but he says that he only made up his mind very recently. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin had asked those thinking of retiring early to give three months' notice, to allow for some effective planning to deliver services with fewer people.

We did have debate about the impact of the departure of so many public servants on the same day. It seems inevitable that problems are going to arise, particularly in specialist areas where vacant posts cannot be filled from excess resources elsewhere in the public service. This is particularly true in health and education. We are told that individual managers have and will be making contingency plans to minimise the impact of the mass exodus.

The cost of the exercise is also being discussed. Far from being a money-saving opportunity, the Exchequer is going to find it very expensive indeed in the first year, due to the payment of lump sums, which for those with 40 years' service amounts to 1.5 times their salary. Even in year two it is estimated that the savings are just one-third of the cost of having those who leave remain on the payroll. That one-third is likely to be more than swallowed up by the limited hiring that will be allowed to fill key posts.

Even the Irish Times refers to what is happening as an ‘early retirement scheme'. It is not, it is an expensive, foreseeable and avoidable accident. Traditionally public servants receive a pension of 50% of their final salary and each time the public service pay scales increase they receive the same percentage increase. When public service pay scales were cut as a result of the recession the then Government failed to apply the cut to public service pensioners.  Compounding that, existing public servants were assured that their pension and retirement lump-sum would be based on their pre-pay cut salary, but that commitment ends on February 29, hence the rush to leave.

One other high profile retiree emerged during the week. After 24 years as Director of the National Museum Pat Wallace is to take early retirement his month and has accused the Government of ‘forcing' him out over cutbacks at the museum. Mr Wallace argues that, while reducing staff levels in a departmental office might be feasible, it could not work in a museum which employs specialists. In other words Government cutbacks had made his job impossible. During his time at the head of the National Museum Mr Wallace has overseen the opening of Collins Barracks in Dublin and the Museum of Country Life in Co. Mayo.

Some public servants seem to have managed to have the best of both worlds, early retirement with a handsome lump sum and pension, followed by a return to work for the State. The fact that dozens of retired public servants have been rehired was underlined when it became necessary to rehire Director of Corporate Enforcement Paul Appleby in order that he can complete the investigation into the former Anglo Irish Bank.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has admitted to rehiring 26 former public servants ‘because of their particular knowledge and expertise', while two are employed by his department as civilian drivers for Minister of State Paul Kehoe. It seems that all departments have been rehiring retired public servants, a fact that was unearthed by a question from Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald.

Murder suspect's body found

Having identified the body of the African woman found in a holdall in Dublin last Sunday, gardaí quickly focused on a suspect and their attempts to locate him ended with the discovery of a body in a wooded area in south east England.

The investigation started last Sunday morning when a person out for a walk examined a large holdall with wheels and handle which had been left beside some wheelie bins on Blackhorse Avenue, close to the junction with the North Circular Road. The bag was found to contain the body of a woman, fully clothed with a plastic bag covering her head. A post-mortem showed that she died from asphyxiation.

Gardaí quickly identified the victim as Rudo Mawere (25) a native of Malawi. She came to Ireland around two years ago, had enrolled in a business studies course and lived in an apartment in Rathmines. She was last seen by her flatmate last Saturday afternoon. Gardaí quickly established that Ms Mawere had a male friend who lived in an apartment on Aughrim Street in the north inner city, about a kilometre from where the body was found. The man had abandoned the apartment, which gardaí treated as a possible crime scene.

Reports came in of two people, matching the description of Ms Mawere and her friend, having a heated argument in the Stoneybatter area of the city late on Saturday afternoon. It was also reported that a taxi driver had informed gardaí of picking up an African man with a large holdall on Aughrim Street and dropping him a short distance away.

Gardaí appeared to develop the theory that Ms Mawere and her male friend had a row over money. Reports suggest that the murdered woman's bank card had been used to withdraw cash from her account without her authorisation and may have been used in Belfast after her death. That may have led to suggestions that the suspect had travelled to England by ferry.

On Wednesday morning a dog walker came upon the body of Jasper ‘Jason' Taruvinga (36) in a wooded area near Higham in Kent. Reports suggest that the native of Zimbabwe had hanged himself. Mr Taruvinga was the Gardaí's chief suspect.

Search for lost fishermen to be wound down

More than 60 divers again arrived at Union Hall in west Cork over the weekend to continue with the search for the two fishermen who are still missing three weeks after the fishing vessel Tit Bonhomme sank at the entrance to Glandore harbour in west Cork. The failure to find any trace of the two men means that the search will now be scaled down.

The two who are missing are skipper Michael Hayes (52), from Ring, Co. Waterford, and Egyptian crewman Saied Ali Eldin (24). The Tit Bonhomme had a crew of six, one of whom survived and the bodies of three others were recovered.

Elsewhere the body of 38-year-old Neilus O'Connor was recovered from Loch Gaineamhain near his home in Cromane, Co. Kerry on Tuesday. Mr O'Connor had set out on the lake in his kayak early in the morning of the previous Friday and the alarm was raised when he failed to return.

After Monday no further reports appeared in the media about the search in the Irish Sea for a fisherman who a day earlier fell overboard from a trawler about nine miles from Clogherhead in Co. Louth. The missing man was said to be from Ukraine and in his 30s. He had been a crewman on board the trawler Zenith, which is registered in the fishing port of Kilkeel in Co. Down.

This week on our website

Bits and Pieces

Holocaust remembered

The tenth annual Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration took place at the Mansion House in Dublin last Sunday evening. President Michael D. Higgins was among those who addressed the 500-strong gathering, which included four survivors who are living in this country. He described the The Holocaust as "a huge stain on European history, one that shows us the true evil that can emerge from hatred, prejudice and intolerance; the terrible inhumanity that can arise and how an ideology can emerge that threatens the order of humanity itself".

Pupils from three selected schools read out the names of victims who were related to members of the Irish Jewish community.

Reliquary stolen from church

A reliquary was stolen from St Brigid's Church in Killester, north Dublin sometime between noon and 3:00pm on Monday. Normally the highly decorated tabernacle-like container would have housed what is reputed to be a fragment of St Brigid's cheekbone, but this had recently been removed while the highly decorative reliquary was being cleaned.

The relic of St Brigid was donated to the parish some 80 years ago and the reliquary had been in the church for about 50 years.

Occupy Cork vacate office block

Occupy Cork protesters have agreed to vacate Stapleton House, a 25k sq ft city centre office block which they had planned to use as a community resource centre. This follows the granting of an injunction to the owners of the property, Padlake Ltd.

Padlake director Barry Doyle told Cork Circuit Court that members of Occupy Cork had gained entry to the building on January 1 by breaking a padlock. Representatives of the protest group have always claimed that they had been given a key anonymously.

Who attends such an exhibition?

There is some controversy over a display entitled the Human Body Exhibition which opened at the Ambassador Theatre in Dublin on Thursday. All the exhibits are dead bodies specially preserved and presented as complete bodies in various poses, as bodies with the skin peeled back to expose the muscles and muscles peeled back to show internal organs, or as bodies which have been cross-sectioned or sliced vertically.

The Florida organisers of the exhibition claim that it is both beautiful and educational and, for those worried about the source of the bodies, they quote from the Chinese doctor who provided them. Dr Hong Jin Sui claims that all the bodies used were "legally donated, are free from infectious disease and certified to have died of natural causes". Using the web it is not difficult to find people who take issue with the doctor's assertion.

Cigarette smuggling leads to job losses

Benny Gilsenan, of the 3,000-strong Retailers Against Smuggling lobby group, reported during the week to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance that at least 700 retail jobs had been lost last year due to the level of cigarette smuggling. With contraband cigarettes selling at €3.20 a pack, the State lost some €420m in 2010 and retailers suffered a loss of up to €575m. The group has recommended a minimum fine of €100k to deter illegal sales.

Garda Inspectorate calls for reform of sex abuse procedures

Having discovered a shortfall of some 65% in the numbers of child sex abuse cases contained in official crime figures, the Garda Inspectorate has called for greater specialisation within An Garda Síochána, with detectives trained to interview child victims and the appointment of a Garda assistant commissioner with special responsibility for child protection.  When Gardaí were unable to supply the inspectorate with annual figures for sex offences against children, it requested paperwork to be checked in the 112 Garda districts and found the disparity between the paper records and the Garda computer database.

The Inspectorate also criticised what they referred to as ‘turf issues' between the Garda and the HSE, which resulted in a delay in investigating allegations of abuse.

Ireland has 2,000 new citizens

During a number of ceremonies held at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin on Thursday and Friday, 2,000 new citizens swore fidelity to the Irish Nation. Reporting on one of the ceremonies Miriam Lord of the Irish Times spoke of it being ‘the happiest of events' but one that ‘delivered a major jolt to the heart of the native cynic'. The new citizens were addressed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the army band was on hand to play the National Anthem, and presiding over all was retired judge Bryan McMahon. He paid tribute to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter ‘for endowing this ceremony with a sense of pomp and a sense of occasion'. On previous occasions new citizens queued up in court to swear loyalty from the witness box.

Irish Independent article ‘completely not true'

A Polish woman who, in an interview with a Polish newspaper, was alleged to have suggested that she was a ‘welfare tourist', spoke on the John Murray show on RTÉ radio on Thursday morning to refute the allegations. Giving her name as Magda, as she did not wish to be identified, she said the allegations were ‘completely not true' and were not just a mistranslation or misinterpretation.

It's not clear how the translation used in the Irish Independent was so inaccurate. Magda was reported as referring to Donegal as a "shithole" and describing her life on social welfare as like a "Hawaiian massage". Instead she considers Donegal to be "heaven" and never wants to live anywhere else. When she found herself unemployed she did collect unemployment benefit but used the time to undertake a FÁS course on massage therapy so that she can start her own business.

Magda, now known to be Gaia Kowalik (38), has lived in Dunfanaghy for a number of years, working as a nanny and in the hospitality industry. The article in the Irish Independent prompted a Twitter outburst from Labour Party Senator Jimmy Harte, for which he has since apologised. The Irish Independent has also acknowledged that it got it all wrong.

Report on alcohol consumption shows 17% fall

A report commissioned by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, ‘The Estimates of Average Adult Alcohol Consumption 2001-2011', suggests that the average consumption per person fell to 12 litres a year, representing a 17% drop over the decade. Compiler of the report Anthony Foley of Dublin City University said that average consumption had decreased in Ireland while increasing in several OECD countries.

Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland pointed out, however, that the first significant decrease, from 2003 to 2006, coincided with an increase in tax on alcohol, and she also pointed out that it was necessary to take into account the fact that one in five people in Ireland do not drink alcohol.

Snippets:

  • Thieves stole a 30ft decorative lamp standard from the Co. Donegal village of Convoy. For ten days no one noticed that the pole had disappeared and although villagers were aware that an area of the village was darker than usual the cause wasn't obvious; lamp posts don't normally get stolen. Eventually someone realised that the €1,500 pole had been cut at the base.
  • The Irish Coast Guard has taken delivery of a new fully-fitted rescue helicopter which will replace the helicopter currently based at Shannon.  The Sikorsky S92 comes equipped with all the latest rescue equipment and is part of a €500m fleet replacement programme.
  • Gardaí are searching for an armed gang who stole €90k from a cash-in-transit van in Co. Kildare at around 10:45am on Thursday. A security man was hit on the face with a metal bar as he was about to service an ATM at the Tesco shopping centre on the Dublin Road in Maynooth.
  • Gardai from Mullingar carried out a planned search of an industrial unit on the outskirts of the Co. Westmeath town, at approximately 2:30pm on Saturday, and uncovered a cannabis grow house. Plants with an estimated street value of €500k were discovered. Two men, aged 37 and 42, were arrested at the scene.

National Lottery Winning Numbers:

  • Wed: 2, 13, 20, 23, 26, 30 (39) - the jackpot of €2.47m was not won
  • Sat: 7, 9, 12, 25, 27, 45 (26) - the jackpot of €3.13m was not won

Northern News

72-year-old dies following bus stop injury

John Hickey (72), from the Oldpark area of north Belfast, died in hospital last Saturday, a week after an incident at a bus stop on Royal Avenue during which he fell to the ground. Police believe Mr Hickey fell to the ground after being jostled in the queue and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital. A 30-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm was later released pending further inquiries by the PSNI.

Derryman alleges police harassment over Kerr killing

Declan McNally  (33), who runs McNally's Inn in Toomebridge, Co. Antrim, has alleged that he has been harassed by police from the time he was one of five people arrested following the murder of police officer Ronan Kerr; all were later released without charge. Mr McNally claims that a member of the security forces held a gun to his head and threatened to execute him if he did not agree to become an informer. The alleged incident took place on Tuesday, After  he left his bar his car was stopped by two men, one of whom put a gun to his head. Mr McNally's solicitor is now to seek an injunction preventing further approaches by the security forces.

Belfast Zoo prices to rise

Members of a Belfast City Council committee have voted in favour of raising charges at Belfast Zoo and their proposal was due to go before the council during the week. The most significant change will be felt by pensioners who, until now, have been admitted free of charge. They will now be asked to pay £4 during the winter months and £5 during the summer, while the winter and summer family ticket will increase by £1.50, to £21.50, and £2.50, to £27 respectively.

McNarry's departure to Sinn Féin's advantage

Following the dispute with party leader Tom Elliott which led to David McNarry's resignation from the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin may be entitled to two additional places on parliamentary committees. The number of places a party has on committees is directly related to the number of MLAs it has. With the UUP losing an MLA it drops below a critical level and could result in the number of places it is entitled to on the various committees dropping from 20 to 18. It is possible that Sinn Féin could pick up both and the matter is currently under negotiation.

Family of Butchers' victim taking legal action

The family of Joseph Morrissey, who was murdered by the Shankill Butchers in 1977, are taking legal action against the chief constable as they believe the RUC could have prevented the murder if it had carried out a proper investigation into the activities of the gang. The UVF gang killed 19 people over a period of two years between 1975 and 1977. Mr Morrissey's daughter, Charlotte Morrissey, also believes there was collusion between the security forces and the loyalists.

First conviction in North for human trafficking

At Belfast Crown Court on Thursday Matyas Pis (38) changed his plea to guilty of charges of human trafficking. The Hungarian national, who runs a restaurant in Dublin, had denied for ten months that he had forced women into prostitution in Belfast after promising them work in a restaurant. Pis had cleared an apartment in the Titanic Quarter, which had been used as a brothel, before police searched it but evidence of his activities, included a notebook giving prices of services, was found in his car. He is believed to be part of an organised crime gang running a vice ring.

Suicide in Dungannon hair salon

On Friday Patrick Hughes, who was in his mid-20s, shot himself dead in front of his ex-girlfriend in the Dungannon, Co. Tyrone hair salon where she worked. Mr Hughes parked outside the salon on Carland Road, removed a gun from the back of his car, walked up the stairs to the salon and ordered everyone but his ex-girlfriend to leave. He then told her to sit down before he shot himself in the head, dying almost instantly. Mr Hughes was a farmer from the Brantry area of Co. Tyrone, close to Dungannon.

Religious symbol removed from pioneer pin

The familiar pioneer pin featuring an image of the Sacred Heart has been replaced by a new version depicting a crossed-out wine glass. According to Brian Jordan, president of the Eglish Pioneer Association in Co. Armagh, removing the religious symbol will open the movement up to people of other faiths. The Pioneer Association was founded in 1898 to encourage people to forgo alcohol and has more than 100,000 members in the country today.

Ms Ritchie's delay upsets her successor

Seán Rogers, who was selected in December to take over the assembly seat of the outgoing SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie, has expressed his disappointment that she has decided to stay on until April 1. Mr Rogers has approached the assembly speaker William Hay and the party leader Alasdair McDonnell to express his concern. Ms Ritchie, who is also a member of the Westminster parliament, defended her decision by saying she had matters she wished to ‘bring to completion' and stressed that the date of her standing down was an internal matter for the SDLP.

Free Derry takes on a new meaning for hostel owner

Steve Nicoll, who runs the Independent Hostel in Derry city, is finding business so slack that he is offering backpackers free rooms until the week before Easter. Mr Nicoll has taken this unusual step in the hope that it will generate more business in the future and is also expecting that tips left by the backpackers will amount to as much as he is currently taking in by charging for beds. There is also the hope that visitors will tell others about the Derry hostel.

New arts centre launched in Belfast

The MAC, Metropolitan Arts Centre, was launched in Belfast on Friday by broadcaster and journalist Mariella Frostrup. The £18m facility in the Cathedral Quarter is due to open in April and comprises two theatres, three art galleries and an artist-in-residence studio, in addition to education and workshop rooms, a dance studio and a performance area. The first show in the venue will be ‘Titanic (Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry) 1912'.

Bail for former cricketer guilty of child abuse

At Belfast Crown Court on Friday Judge Gemma Loughran granted bail to former cricketer Udy Joshi (68) after he was convicted of sexually abusing a teenage boy more than 30 years ago. Joshi was in the North to run cricketing training camps and the first occasion of abuse took place when he took the then 13-year-old boy and his father to a test match in Birmingham. Judge Loughran granted Joshi leave to return to his home in North Carolina after he had deposited £40k with the court. His sentence is to be determined next month.

EU funding for Maze centre

The EU has approved £18m in funding for a conflict transformation centre to be established at the Maze prison in Lisburn, Co. Antrim, as part of a larger development which is expected to be announced shortly. This will also feature the transfer from Balmoral to the Maze site of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society operations, and facilities for motor rally and aviation pursuits, as part of a £300m development.

The location of the conflict centre at the Maze has caused disquiet among some unionists but the proposal has been endorsed by the DUP.

Other News:

  • Shoppers in the North will be paying 5p for single-use carrier bags from April of next year, following confirmation by the Assembly. The anti-litter levy will rise to 10p the following year, with the same being charged for multi-use shopping bags. The move comes ten years after a plastic bag levy was introduced in the Republic, where annual usage per head dropped from 328 to 21.
  • Billy Meek, who was in his eighties, died in a fire at his house on the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim on Tuesday. A neighbour who attempted to rescue him was treated for smoke inhalation.
  • On Tuesday Justice Gillen heard final submissions in a hearing concerning the trial of former UVF leader Mark Haddock and 12 others in relation to the killing of Tommy English in 2000, and subsequently retired to consider his verdict. He told the court he would do this as soon as possible.
  • An investigation is to be carried out by the office of the Police Ombudsman into the death of a Derry man following a fall from a PSNI van. Peter Somerville (21), of Maghera, Co. Derry, died after suffering critical head injuries when he fell from a moving PSNI van in his home town ten days ago; he was in police custody at the time.
  • Rebecca Donham-Phelabare (34) appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court on Thursday charged with administering poison to four men on the same day in Belfast. Ms Donham-Phelabare made no response to the allegations and was remanded back into custody to await her return for Crown Court trial. Details of the case are sparse.
  • A total of nine dogs have been seized during an investigation in Co. Down into animal cruelty and badger-baiting; five of the dogs had serious injuries. A 58-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday in Banbridge and was later released pending further inquiries, while last month a 33-year-old man was charged in Newry Magistrates Court with cruel to animals after a raid in Rostrevor, where four dogs were seized.
  • £150m is to be invested in Belfast, with £20m to be spent on an extension to the Waterfront Hall conference and concert venue. The three-year investment strategy, which is expected to promote thousands of jobs, is to include a green economy business park on the North Foreshore and an innovation centre in Springvale.
  • Former LVF member Neil Hyde (32) has had his prison sentence for 48 paramilitary offences reduced from 18 years to three years after he signed an agreement to help police investigations. Hyde, who had once been charged with involvement in the 2001 murder of Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan (51), is expected to help bring the killers to justice.
  • The PSNI launched a murder investigation after the body of a man was found in a flat in Portlec Place in Lurgan, County Armagh, in the early hours of Sunday. A 21-year-old man has been arrested. No other information is available at this stage.
  • Also in Lurgan in the early hours of Sunday a PSNI officer was seriously injured when he called at a house on the Kilwilkie estate to deal with a domestic incident. The officer was slashed with a knife and suffered serious injuries to the back of his head. A 41-year-old man suspected of attempted murder was arrested.

The Courts

Former priest jailed for three years on child pornography charges

Former priest Oliver O'Grady (66) was sentenced to three years in prison for possession of child pornography. In February 2010 when O'Grady, a native of Limerick but with an address in Dublin, travelled from Amsterdam to Dublin on board an Aer Lingus flight he left his laptop computer on board the aircraft. He failed to claim it within three months and the Aer Lingus staff member who found it was allowed to take possession of it. When large quantities of child pornography were found on the computer gardaí were informed.

O'Grady had been ordained to serve in a diocese in California and moved there in 1971. It is believed that he was abusing children as early as 1976 but it wasn't until 1993 that he was convicted of sexually abusing two brothers and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was released after seven years and deported to Ireland.

Footballer pleads guilty to affray

Kevin Cassidy (30), the former captain of the Donegal senior football team and the recipient of two All-Star awards, pleaded guilty at Letterkenny Circuit Court on Tuesday to threatening unlawful violence during an affray. The case arose from an incident in Derrybeg, Gweedore in August 2008 and the Gweedore man's brother, Stephen (37) was also in court, charged with assault causing harm and pleaded guilty.

Meanwhile brothers Shaun (28) and Michael Maguire (21), of Gort an Choirce, both pleaded guilty to threatening behaviour and committing an affray. Judge John O'Hagan adjourned sentencing until July.

Minister requests report on issue of gun licences

Following remarks by Justice John Hedigan in the High Court, in relation to a case taken by members of gun clubs over an alleged policy of senior gardaí refusing gun licences, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has asked for a report from Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. After the case was settled by Justice Hedigan he commented that the recording process, vital to the safe and effective operation of the gun licensing scheme, had not been correctly followed. He also noted the disturbing fact that a significant number of the application forms had been altered after legal proceedings began, although they had been finalised and signed previously.

Garda in motorway crash had spent afternoon in pub

In the trial of Detective Garda Kevin Keys at Dublin District Court on Wednesday he pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving and taking an unmarked car from his Garda station at Mountjoy in Dublin, in February 2010. The court heard that Det. Garda Keys had spent the afternoon watching a rugby match in a pub where it was alleged he consumed up to six pints. He subsequently drove the unmarked Garda car on the M50 where he crashed into a 4x4 driven by Gareth Wooster; the 4x4 was a write-off. Both Det. Garda Keys and his passenger, Det. Sgt Peter Woods, were taken to Tallaght Hospital where they refused treatment, and left. By the time a Garda Sergeant and an ombudsman investigator were able to contact Det. Garda Keys too much time had elapsed to carry out a breathalyser test. The trial is continuing this week.

Eight-year term for 2006 robbery

Darren Finnerty (32) of Ballinasloe, but with an address in Tuam, Co. Galway, was given an eight-year sentence with the final two years suspended for robbery at the home of a 75-year-old widower at Ballygar, Co. Galway in September 2006. At Galway Circuit Criminal Court on Thursday Judge Raymond Groarke said the victim spends a considerable part of each day at the local Garda station, and sleeps under his bed at night as a result of being beaten and tied up in the course of the robbery.

It also emerged that it was the victim's cousin (who is now deceased) who had told known criminals that the elderly man had a large sum of money in his house; €9,000 was taken and has never been recovered. The robbery was carried out by two men and a woman, the latter having since absconded to England. The second man, Christopher McDonagh from Athlone, was sentenced to eight years with the final two suspended, in 2009. Finnerty had absconded before his trial in 2008 but was brought back to Ireland and has been in custody ever since.

Ex-solicitor Byrne accused of stealing €52m

Further charges, involving €52m, have been brought against ex-solicitor Thomas Byrne, who was charged in December with stealing some €2m from his clients. The extra 50 charges against the 45-year-old relate to the fraudulent acquisition of mortgages, from a number of banks, in relation to 20 properties.  Mr Byrne, who had a practice in Walkinstown, Dublin, was granted bail and will appear before Dublin District Court in four weeks' time. He was also granted legal aid but was ordered to surrender his passport.

Two in custody over Co. Galway killing

A 35-year-old man and a 17-year-old youth, both from Romania, have been remanded in custody after being charged at Galway District Court with the manslaughter last September of schoolteacher and publican John Kenny in Oughterard, Co. Galway; they were also charged with withholding information.

Marian Lingurar and the youth, who cannot be named, were arrested at different addresses in Cork city and brought to Galway to be charged. The former was remanded to Castlerea Prison while the youth was sent to St Patrick's Institution. Mr Kenny's body was found in a room in his pub, with his hands tied behind his back. A post mortem showed that he had died as a result of an assault.

Other cases:

  • Barry Doyle (26), of Portland Road in Dublin, is currently on trial at the Central Criminal Court for the murder of Garryowen rugby player Shane Geoghegan in November 2008. Doyle has pleaded not guilty although the court was told that on his 15th interview with gardaí he admitted shooting Mr Geoghegan but claimed it was a case of mistaken identity. He refused to name the intended victim or his accomplices.
  • Also before the court on a murder charge is Stephen Boyle (40), a native of Arranmore Island, Co. Donegal, but with an address in London where he has his own construction business. He pleaded not guilty, but guilty of the manslaughter of Paul Boyle (19) on Arranmore in October 2009. It was alleged in court that the two men had engaged in an argument as the victim, who once worked for the accused in London, claimed he was owed £400 in wages. Paul and his friends went to another pub and when the accused arrived there he pushed a broken beer glass into the victim's neck.

Employment & Industrial Relations

Flawed investigation leads to award for dismissal

The Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled that an investigation into an incident by Vicuna Ltd, which at the time was responsible for  the National Car Testing Service, was ‘seriously flawed', and awarded an NCT inspector €25k over his dismissal. Rory Cunningham, who worked for the company at Cahir, Co. Tipperary, had been dismissed after insisting to colleagues that they pass a previously failed vehicle that belonged to a friend of his. In addition to the judgement on the investigation, the Tribunal ruled that an accusation of bullying by Mr Cunningham was not raised until midway through the investigation.

Review of allowances upsets teachers

The Government has ordered that no new recruits to the public service will receive any allowances over and above the basic pay. This ban will apply throughout February while at the same time a review is taking place to assess the validity of allowances, some of which are in place for decades; gardaí for instance receive a substantial rent allowance.

When news of the suspension of allowances became public it referred specifically to the teaching profession and prompted one union leader to accuse the Government of targeting "vulnerable" young teachers. The Irish Times put the situation into context by reporting that any new teacher hired during February will receive a salary of €27,814. Back in September 2010 the new recruit might have received up to €39,195. At that time the basic salary was €33,041 and the new teacher could expect an HDip allowance of €1,236, while those with a primary degree received an additional €4,918.

Politics & Politicians

Wicklow County Council's land purchase to be investigated

The Attorney General has been asked by the Department of the Environment to appoint a senior counsel to investigate both the Department's role and that of Wicklow County Council in the compulsory purchase of 3.5 acres at Greystones. In 2009 the Department granted the county council a €5m loan for the purchase of the site for social housing, despite having questioned a year earlier the need for such a purchase when the council already owned land; the loan was not drawn down.

The purchase was delayed as a result of the death of the land owner and the site was eventually bought for €3m in 2011, although in 2010 it had been valued at less than €700k. In recent times it has emerged that part of the site is unsuitable for building due to flooding.

TDs clock up €6m in expenses

With the figures for December 2011 published on the Oireachtas website on Wednesday it has been revealed that TDs amassed €6m in expenses since the first sitting of the 31st Dáil last March, on top of their basic salary of €92,672. TDs can opt to receive a flat rate, based on the distance between their home and the Dáil, or they can submit expense claims for actual amounts. Either way there is a fixed rate travel and accommodation allowance (TAA) based on their home location.

Topping the list was Fine Gael TD for Cork South West Noel Harrington, who received more than €53k. It is however unfair to single him out as he is based in west Cork and receives the maximum TAA of €37,850. It is, however, worth singling out the Labour TD for Dublin South West, Éamon Maloney, who refused to claim any expenses. He thinks that he is paid extremely well with his basic salary and does not require the €12k TAA, or to claim under the PRA as he doesn't have a constituency office. Compare that with the €31,865 claimed by Richard Boyd Barrett, whose party rejoices in the title of People Before Profit and who represents nearby Dún Laoghaire.

Meeting calls for review of Vatican embassy decision

A two-hour meeting of Fine Gael TDs on Wednesday agreed that the Government should review the decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Vatican. The motion was proposed by Tony McLoughliln, TD for Sligo-North Leitrim, and received unanimous approval, though parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan reported that it was also the unanimous view of the party that the issue should be reviewed ‘having regard to the prevailing economic conditions' rather than as a matter of urgency.

Yesterday's Sunday Independent claimed that the Fine Gael party debate was at times quite heated. The newspaper also reported that Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Éamon Gilmore has ruled out any review of the decision. Mr Gilmore also denied that it reflected an "anti-Catholic" agenda within the Labour Party.

Minister to reduce special needs payments for Communions and Confirmations

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has announced that the special needs payments made to parents to finance Communions and Confirmations is to be reduced to €110. Last year an average of €303 was paid to families in the greater Dublin area, with the lowest amount, €189, made in the north east. In total last year €3.4m was paid for religious occasions and the Minister has said that social welfare officers would still have discretionary powers in unforeseen circumstances.

At a time when priests, teachers and others are trying to persuade parents to abandon the spending excesses of the recent past when it comes to First Communions, Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald got quite exercised in the Dáil as she appealed for the First Communion payment to be maintained at existing levels.

The importance of reading the small print

Dublin North Central Labour TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin learned the hard way this week the importance of reading a document before agreeing to it, when he found that he had supported a party motion that called for senior civil servants to be monitored for ‘inappropriate deference' to the Catholic Church.

After Catholic commentators had accused the Labour Party of an anti-Catholic bias, Mr Ó Riordáin admitted he had not read the entire report but did support the main thrust, that there should be discussion of the relationship between all the churches and the State. The offending words will not, he said, appear in any motion being tabled at the Labour Party national conference.

Health

Another price rise from VHI

Health insurer VHI has announced a price increase of an average 9%, applicable from mid-March, the third increase in 14 months which will add some €300 to the cost of health cover for a family of two adults and two children. Older people, many of whom have Plan B Options, now known as HealthPlus Extra, have seen their premiums rise from €986 in January 2011 to €1,461 in November and now to €1,644, which is a price increase of 65%. The health insurer justifies the increase in premiums by noting that the average claims cost per customer has increased by 15% over the last three years.

Minister for Health James Reilly is to hold a meeting with the board of VHI in the near future to express his concern about the price increase and about inefficiencies within the health insurer. Dr Reilly said he didn't accept that health costs had risen by 9% year on year and questioned the cost of some medical procedures.

Cork boy first in Republic to have ‘bionic' ear

Three-year-old Calum Geary, from Ballyhooley in Cork, will go to Manchester later this month to have auditory brainstem implants inserted which will give him hearing for the first time in his life. Calum, who has a twin brother, Donnacha, and two older brothers, was born without hearing nerves which means he is missing all the nerves between his ear and his brain, and also his balance nerves.

Following the operation on February 28 the implanted device will not be switched on for six to eight weeks to allow it time to settle, and Calum will subsequently need speech therapy in California. The family is now undertaking fundraising to finance the treatment and donations can be made to the Ulster Bank, Fermoy, sort code 98 57 25, account number 10516017.

Travel & Tourism

Creative marketing?

The Carlton Hotel Group received some unwelcome attention during the week when management was accused of urging selected members of staff to write positive reviews of individual hotels on the TripAdvisor website. The Irish Times reported on a detailed email sent by the group's head of sales and marketing, Jean O'Connell. This was going to involve five staff at each of the ten hotels in the chain. They would review one hotel each quarter taking precautions to remove any suspicion of a link with the group.

Ms O'Connell agreed that the email had been sent in July 2010 but was never acted upon. However later in the week the newspaper followed up on the story with claims, from current and former employees of the hotel, and evidence of further emails, which indicates that manipulation of the website was carried out between July and November 2010.

New measures expected to reduce number of taxi drivers

New measures regulating the country's taxi service, to be brought in later in the year, are expected to reduce the number of taxi drivers of which there is an oversupply of between 13% and 22%, according to Minister of State for Transport Alan Kelly. Among the 46 recommendations are a declaration as to other employment, a revision of the age limit for taxis and the requirement for a six-monthly NCT test.

Measures will be introduced to withhold licences from those with criminal convictions; they will have to apply to the courts to obtain or renew licences. Minister Kelly also confirmed that attention will be paid to the numbers guilty of revenue avoidance and fraud. What might have the biggest impact on the number of drivers in the business is, however, the decision to ban the transfer of vehicle licences from October of this year.

Bank seizes €1.1m from Galway Airport

On Friday of last week Bank of Ireland withdrew €1.1m from the deposit account of Galway Airport to offset loans, despite repayments on the loans being fully up to date. The bank had met with the directors of the airport early in January and the removal of the money from the account came as a complete surprise to them.  The airport may now have to cease trading, even though PricewaterhouseCoopers had lined up 12 prospective investors who were to be approached in the near future.

Cork-Swansea ferry service in receivership

The owners of the Fastnet Line ferry service between Cork and Swansea are determined to try to revive the service despite being forced into receivership after failing to secure the necessary financing. The service has been suspended since the company went into receivership last November and last minute efforts during the week to secure the necessary funding to survive fell just short. Various bodies had been ready to make a contribution but in the end it didn't add up and seven permanent and 71 contract jobs have been lost.

Chairman of the West Cork Tourism Co-op Society Noel Murphy has said they will now look at ways to revive the line which, it is estimated, was worth €30m per year in tourism revenue to the South West.

The Irish Abroad

Irish duo plan trek to North Pole

Dr Clare O'Leary from Bandon, Co. Cork and Mike O'Shea from Kerry have both spent some months in training for a joint attempt to trek 784km from the north of Canada to the North Pole. This is Dr O'Leary's third attempt to make the hazardous journey and if she succeeds she will become only the second women to have scaled the highest peaks on the seven ‘continents' (Africa, N. America, S. America, Europe, Asia, Antarctica and Oceania) and reached the North and South Poles.

This is Mr O'Shea's first attempt. He has been involved in mountaineering and adventure sports since the mid-1980s.

Drive for acceptance of E3 visa Bill in US

The Irish Times reports that the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in New York has been active in pushing for the passing of the E3 visa Bill which could pave the way for 10,000 Irish citizens to obtain work visas for the US. Members of the ILIR recently had meetings at the White House with members of the Obama administration, seeking the President's support for the Bill.

The E3 Bill is being driven by New York Senator Charles ‘Chuck' Schumer and so far has the support of 50 Senators. The priority now is for the Irish in the US to lobby Republican Senators for support. If passed, Irish people will be able to apply for the E3 visa, a two-year work visa that can be renewed indefinitely.

Drunken Irishmen arrested after stabbing incident in Thailand

Newspapers in Thailand report that ‘two drunken Irishmen' are in custody following a row which started in a pub in the resort town of Pattaya when one of them demanded a refund of "bar fines" which he had paid in order to have sex with one of the bar girls.

The Pattaya Daily News described Darren Delaney (40) as extremely drunk when the row started. It alleged that he became violent and injured two foreigners but left when two locals intervened. The newspaper went on to claim that he returned with his friend Thomas Plunkett (39) and attacked the motorbike taxi-man and the security guard who had intervened earlier.  Both were left with serious stab wounds.

Delany and Plunkett were later arrested at their residence after a struggle.

Care home owner may return from Australia

The Irish Times was again reporting on Miriam Holmes, who left for Australia with her daughter Hayley after their nursing home was closed by the Health Information and Quality Authority. The Avondale nursing home in Kilkenny was closed last July over concerns about health and safety; gardaí are also investigating allegations of theft from patients.

According to the latest reports Ms Holmes' solicitor has said that his client is willing to assist the gardaí in any investigation they are conducting and the she may return to this country for that purpose. The newspaper also reports that the nursing regulator in Australia is seeking to have the registrations of the two women suspended and if they are no longer entitled to work as nurses their visas would become invalid.

Irishman among those rescued from Atlantic rowing bid

Dubliner Aodhán Kelly (26) was one of six men rescued from an upturned rowing boat in the Atlantic, some 520 miles from Barbados; the other five crew members were British citizens. The six men aboard the 36ft Sara G had been attempting to break the record for a crossing of the Atlantic by completing it within 30 days, and were 27 days into the attempt when a huge wave caused the 36ft vessel to capsize.

All six managed to make it to a life raft and were later picked up by a cargo ship, which had been alerted by the coast guard in Martinique after the men had managed to activate their emergency beacon.

Assaulted Irishman awarded €285k

Patrick Crilly (25) from Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, was awarded Aus$350k (€285k) after being beaten by a pub security guard in Sydney in an unprovoked attack. The incident took place in December 2008 when Mr Crilly was attempting to help a friend who had become involved in a fight. The security guard punched him on the jaw, causing him to fall to the ground and bang the back of his head on concrete. He subsequently lost hearing in his right ear, has balance problems and has suffered bleeding on the brain.

Upstairs Downstairs for the British-Irish get-together

Politicians attending the twice-yearly meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in London last week were somewhat disconcerted to find that the after-meeting dinner arrangements had more than a touch of class consciousness. Organised by Tory MP Laurence Robertson, a dinner was laid on in the Michelin-starred restaurant in the Crown Plaza Hotel for the co-chairmen, Mr Robertson himself and Joe McHugh of Fine Gael, and the co-chairs of the two sub-committees involved, Jack Wall and Frankie Feighan, as well as the four men's assistants. The rest of the delegates were, however, sent to a different dining area where there was a set menu. The Irish Times reports that at the end of the evening apologies were offered.

Irish Traveller group complains over BBC programme

The Irish Traveller Movement in Britain has lodged a complaint with the BBC following a report which alleged that Travellers were involved in trafficking people to Sweden and Norway and forcing them to work 14 hours a day. A Swedish human trafficking report had found 26 cases of British nationals being forced to work long hours in Sweden, prompting the BBC coverage. Fr Joe Browne, chairman of the Irish Traveller Movement, accused the broadcaster of denigrating an entire community over unproven allegations about a few.

Conservation & The Environment

Clonmel proud of landmark building

In Tuesday's Irish Times, Environment Editor Frank McDonald sang the praises of all those involved in the beautiful restoration of the Main Guard building in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Singled out for particular praise was conservation architect Margaret Quinlan who is from the town, while the foresight of Clonmel Borough Council and the Office of Public Works was also mentioned.

The Main Guard was built as a courthouse in 1675 but was in a sorry state when purchased by Clonmel Borough Council in 1986. Initially the building appeared to have little merit but Ms Quinlan uncovered, first a pillar and then arches and demonstrated the potential of a restoration. There is now no sign of Cooney's pub on the ground floor. It has given way to an attractive arched arcade. High ceilings are again a feature of the ground floor which means that there is just one upper floor with larger windows, giving the building much better proportions.

Gas could provide jobs - but some say the cost is to high

Tamboran Resources has said that there is enough natural gas in the north west, in particular in Leitrim, to supply Irish needs for 12 years and to create 3,000 jobs. However the method of extracting the gas, through ‘fracking', has many opponents as it has been blamed in the US for contaminating water supplies.

The CEO of Tamboran has given assurances that only water, without any added chemicals, will be used in the ‘fracking' process here but those opposed to ‘fracking' are opposed to ‘fracking', full stop. The gas field extends into Co. Fermanagh and licences are also being sought north of the border. That brought about 100 protesters, including a Sinn Féin representative, onto the streets of Enniskillen on Saturday.

Electric Ireland plans Clare wind farm

An application has been lodged by Electric Ireland for a €30m wind farm at Moneypoint power station in Co. Clare comprising five 506ft turbines which are expected to produce 45 million units of electricity each year. An earlier application, ten years ago, received approval for a 360ft nine-turbine wind farm at the power station on the Shannon estuary but the then ESB did not proceed with the project.

Education

Rockwell gets is first female principal

For the first time in its 148-year history, Rockwell College in Co. Tipperary will have a female principal following the appointment of Audrey O'Byrne (37), a native of Cahir in the county. Ms O'Byrne, who will replace the first lay principal, Pat O'Sullivan, will take up her post in March.

Traveller loses case against school over bias

The High Court on Friday refused to overturn a successful Circuit Court appeal against a ruling by the Equality Tribunal that a school had shown bias in refusing to accept a Traveller as a pupil. John Stokes (14) had applied for admission to the CBS High School in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, but was not given one of the 140 places, leaving him a 20-mile journey to another school in Fethard. However his mother, Mary Stokes, took legal action claiming bias as one of the criteria for entry was if the father of a prospective pupil had attended the school. She argued that it was very rare for men of her husband's generation to have attended secondary school, and therefore this particular criterion represented bias against Travellers.

In the Circuit Court Judge Thomas Teahon had ruled that the criterion also discriminated against immigrants and was not confined to Travellers, and Justice Patrick McCarthy in the High Court agreed with this ruling.  There is a possibility that the Stokes family, through the Irish Traveller Movement independent law centre, will lodge another appeal.

Meeting the demand for ICT graduates

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn was joined by Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Richard Bruton on Monday for the launch of the Joint Government - Industry ICT Action Plan: Meeting the High Level ICT Skills Needs of Enterprise in Ireland. The plan is to offer training to suitable graduates who wish to gain ICT skills and avail of jobs that are readily available in that sector. 

According to Mr Quinn, "We need to take action to develop a sustainable domestic supply of high level ICT skills over time to drive the further expansion and development of the sector and to support innovation and growth across other sectors of the economy".   

More than 750 places are being made available on 17 new graduate skills conversion programmes across the country. Applications can be made through the Bluebrick website, for courses commencing in March. 

Deaths

Man takes his own life when stopped by gardaí

A 44-year-old Co. Tipperary man took his own life after he had been stopped by two gardaí in a patrol car who noticed him driving erratically on the Thurles road in Newport on Monday night. Anthony McMahon, a keen hunter, fired a shot from the vehicle at the approaching gardaí before Garda Gerry Brassil managed to take possession of the weapon.

Mr McMahon, the separated father of a 14-year-old boy, then produced a rifle and discharged another shot, forcing the two gardaí to take refuge behind the garda car while four or five shots were fired in their direction. Mr McMahon then fired a final shot which inflicted a fatal wound to his head. Garda Brassil received minor burns to his face and hands during the incident.

First gangland killing of 2012 recorded in Finglas

What is being described as the first gangland killing of 2012 took place in An Cappagh Nua pub in Finglas at around 1:00am on Thursday. A lone gunman entered the bar, singled out Alan McNally (36), from Finglas, and shot him in the head a number of times.  The gunman made his escape with, it is believed, the assistance of another man.

Media reports suggest that the dead man had little chance in life and in his early years developed a drug habit which he eventually overcame. He returned to education and eventually became a drug counsellor. The pressure of his work eventually took its toll and he again resorted to drugs and further trouble with the law.

It is just over three years since Mr McNally's older brother Graham was taken or lured to a quiet cul-de-sac called Coldwinter, off the old Dublin-Derry road, and was shot six times in the head.

Road deaths in Counties Galway, Donegal and Waterford

 

  • The young woman driver who died in a road accident in Galway city last weekend was named as Mary Davey (19), from Craughwell, Co. Galway.

 

 

  • A 19-year-old man was fatally injured in a single-vehicle accident on Station Road, Mountcharles, Co. Donegal at around 2:00am Monday. Three men in their 20s, who were passengers in the car, were injured. The victim, Christopher Kane, and his three friends had been attending a farewell party for another friend who was emigrating to Australia. Christopher himself had been planning to go to Australia in May.

 

 

  • Aaron Duggan (22), from near Portlaw, Co. Waterford, lost his life at around 2:50am on Thursday when the car he was driving burst into flames after colliding with a truck on the N25 at Ballyshunnock, Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford. Mr Duggan had recently returned home after spending time in Australia.

 

Business News

ERC seeking buyer for Eircom

ERC Ireland Holdings Ltd, the parent company of Eircom, has hired Morgan Stanley & Co International to find a buyer for the company. Eircom has debts of almost €3bn and although it is operationally profitable it has no hope of paying this sum. Proposals to restructure the debt and the company have proved unacceptable and ST Telemedia, the Singapore company described as Eircom's largest shareholder, has withdrawn its conditional investment of €200m. It has also withdrawn its representatives from the Eircom board.

Keystone Foods takes over spice burger company

Walsh Family Foods, the holder of the secret spice burger recipe, has been sold to US multinational Keystone Foods. The Dublin company has been in receivership since 2009 and the acquisition by Keystone Foods sees the retention of all 21 employees. When the company was in danger of closing a campaign was launched to save the spice burger, the recipe for which was devised by butcher Maurice Walsh in Glasnevin in the early 1950s.

Another bill payment firm closes

The accounts of Rents and Co., based at Crumlin Cross in Dublin, have been frozen by the Central Bank and the company has ceased trading. The Central Bank undertook a review of bill and debt management firms following the collapse of Home Payments Ltd last year. The bill payment service has thousands of customers whose accounts will now be audited.

Delay in paying increased mortgage relief to home owners

A delay in updating banks' IT systems has led to 270,566 home owners paying more than they should for mortgages. The mortgage interest relief was set at 30% in the last budget, effective from January 1, but the main banks, including AIB, Band of Ireland, KBC and Ulster Bank, have failed to pass on the changes and it will be April before the changeover is complete.  According to the Irish Times the delay is due to the failure of Revenue and the banks to co-ordinate their computer systems.

Economic crash reduces aggregate net worth of Irish households

A study by the Central Bank has shown that the economic downturn has had the effect of reducing the aggregate net worth of Irish households by more than €230bn, or €51,500 per head of population. This is primarily due to the more than 50% drop in house values since 2007. The Irish Times referred to this as "the impoverishment of households" but if the value of our house is down 50% since 2007 it is of no consequence to us and does not impoverish us in any way. 

Many others do have problems and research by the Central Statistics Office, cited in the bank's report, also shows that mortgage arrears rates among lower-income groups are twice the overall average.

Shareholder's challenge to bank recapitalisation to go ahead

In the High Court on Friday the Minister for Finance failed in his bid to secure an order to halt a challenge by a shareholder of Irish Life & Permanent to the Government's recapitalisation plans for the bank. Piotr Skoczylas, controlling shareholder of Scotchstone Capital Funds Ltd, had brought the challenge, one of a number brought against the Government over recapitalisation of IL&P. The allegation is that the Government placed impossible requirements for the recapitalisation of the bank and was therefore able to step in and take it over.

Quinn family challenges loan guarantees to Anglo

The Commercial Court is currently hearing arguments relating to the challenge by Seán Quinn's wife and five children against the demand from the Irish Banks Reconciliation Corporation (formerly Anglo Irish Bank) for the payment of €2.34bn in respect of loan guarantees. The family argue that the Anglo loans were ‘tainted with illegality' as the bank was aware that they were being used to prop up the bank's share price.

Weather

It was quite a pleasant week with little rain and quite mild for the first few days. The severe cold conditions that have been pushing westwards across Europe finally reached Ireland on Wednesday but we escaped the snow, and temperatures were just a few degrees below zero. Here in Galway we had some ice on the car windscreen on Thursday and Friday mornings but as the roads were dry driving conditions were perfect. Icy roads were reported in other parts.

It will remain mild and fairly dry up to an including Wednesday, which is expected to be quite wet. At that stage another cold snap will hit the country and remain with us over the weekend, but no snow is forecast.

Latest Temperatures: Day 8C (46F).................Night 6C (43F)

S P O R T

G.A.A.

National Football League Division One

                   Laois 0-8                 Mayo 1-11
                   Down 1-10              Donegal 1-9
                   Dublin 0-11              Kerry 1-14
                   Armagh 0-10           Cork 1-7

National Football League Division Two

                   Kildare 0-12             Tyrone 2-11
                   Meath 1-15              Monaghan 1-9
                   Derry 1-11              Galway 1-15
                   Louth 0-12               Westmeath 1-6

National Football League Division Three

                   Antrim 0-13             Sligo 0-12
                   Longford 2-15          Offaly 0-8
                   Wexford 4-9            Cavan 1-13
                   Roscommon 1-12      Tipperary 0-12

National Football League Division Four

                   London P                 Fermanagh P
                   Clare 1-17               Waterford 0-12
                   Kilkenny 1-1            Wicklow 3-25
                   Leitrim 0-9              Limerick 1-9

Rugby

Six Nations

                   Ireland 21               Wales 23
                   Scotland 6               England 13
                   France 30                Italy 12

Ulster Bank League Division 1A

                   Lansdowne 17          Shannon 22
                   Blackrock C 18         Old Belvedere 11
                   Clontarf 32              Dolphin 23
                   St Mary's C 13         Garryowen 12
                   Young Munster 9       Cork Con 7

Ulster Bank League Division 1B

                   Ballynahinch 22        Dungannon 22
                   Ballymena 17           Bruff 8
                   Belfast ‘Quins 19      Galwegians 13
                   UL Bohemians 8        UCC 3
                   UCD 15                   Buccaneers 16

Sports Shorts

Golf - Hoey the best of the Irish

Michael Hoey was the best of the Irish at the Qatar Masters in Doha.  He finished on 6-under, nine shots behind winner Paul Lawrie.  Peter Lawrie and Graeme McDowell both finished on 1-under with Damien McGrane finishing on 2-over.

 

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Irish Emigrant Publications

a: Bóthar an Leachta, Menlo, Galway, Ireland

t: +353 (0)91 569158

e: info@emigrant.ie

w: http://www.emigrant.ie

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