30 June 2009

More Jobs Cuts in Waterford and Co. Mayo

It has become known this evening that 200 jobs will soon be lost in two different companies, one based in Waterford, and the other in Co. Mayo.

The US-owned multi-national eye care products manufacturer Bausch & Lomb is expected to announce tomorrow morning that 120 people are to be made redundant at its large plant in Waterford (photo), where it is one of the main employers.

This will bring the workforce at the factory to below 1100, nearly 700 people less than were employed there a few years ago.
While I am writing this, talks are continuing tonight at the factory between trade unions and management representatives.

The company has already shed 195 (of its then 1400) jobs - mostly on a 'voluntary' basis - in March of this year. (see my entry of March 4th)

Meanwhile in Co. Mayo, Eurotel Marketing Ltd. has said that 80 workers will lose their jobs with the closure of a major call centre in Belmullet.

Dramatic Contraction in the Irish Economy

Official figures show that there was a dramatic contraction in the Irish economy in the first three months of this year.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Cork states that economic output, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), fell at an annual rate of 8.5%.

The decline in gross national product (GNP), which excludes profits from multi-national companies based here, was even bigger at minus 12%.

The CSO describes these figures as "unprecedented" and they are weaker than economists had expected. They are the worst since these particular measures began to be recorded in 1997.

The last time economic activity in Ireland fell so severely was back in the late 1950s.

There was an extremely large fall in the volume of construction output. New housing was down by 47% and there was a 20% fall in other building and construction projects.

As consumers are spending less in general, the measure of personal consumption was down by 9.1% in the first three months of this year compared to last year.

Ian Paisley Jr. 'in Contempt of Court'

Ian Paisley Jr (photo) has been found 'in contempt of court' and fined £ 5000 for refusing to reveal a source to an inquiry that investigates the death of the late Billy Wright, a Protestant and Unionist terrorist in the North who was for some time leader of a radical splinter group, the so-called 'Loyalist Volunteer Force' (LVF).

Paisley Jr, who is the MLA for North Antrim (and son of former DUP leader and First Minister of the Northern administration Ian Paisley) was also told that he would have to pay £ 3000 toward the inquiry team's legal costs.

At the Belfast High Court Mr Justice Gillen said he would give Paisley Jr three months "to reconsider and to comply with the requests to reveal his source".

Ian Paisley Jr served from May 2007 to February 2008 as a junior minister in the office of the First Minister & Deputy First Minister in the North, but resigned from this position under a cloud over alleged irregularities.

He has consistently refused to reveal the identity of a prison officer working in the Maze Prison at the time of Wright's death in December 1997, who had told him that over 5000 prison files had been destroyed after the fatal shooting of the terrorist.

In a recent interview Paisley Jr defended his right to withhold the information, as it was given to him confidentially in his capacity as an elected member of the Northern Assembly. He declared that - if necessary - he would "rather go to prison than reveal the identity of the source".

The Emerald Islander

150 Years Prison Sentence for Bernard Madoff

Yesterday the disgraced US ex-financier Bernard Madoff (right) has been sentenced to 150 years in prison for fraud. It was the maximum sentence the Judge could impose on the man who has been exposed as the - so far - biggest crook in world history.

There were cheers and applause in the courtroom when the Judge passed sentence, as many of Madoff's victims and former clients were present to follow the trial.
Among those former clients are many Hollywood stars, well-known international financiers and investors, some of the world's most famous banks and plenty of Jewish charities, some of which were forced to close after Madoff's fraudulent 'Ponzi scheme' unravelled.

They all fell for Madoff's charm and chose to believe in the impossible. He promised investors a regular steady return each year, regardless what the markets were doing or how the economy was developing. Anyone with even basic knowledge of mathematics will know that such is not possible. Investments are always subject to fluctuation, because the global markets are quite volatile and hard to predict. Thus there will be great gains in one year, lesser gains in other years, and often enough also losses.
This never happened to Madoff investors. They just received their annual pay-outs as steady and regular as the No. 3 bus, no matter what was going on. And no-one seemed alarmed, or wondered how he could do it. There was no other bank or investment fund that could offer such returns, and some of them began to wonder what was going on inside the Madoff organisation. (These doubts and various complaints, long ignored by the regulatory authorities, led eventually to Madoff's unmasking and downfall.)

Madoff told the court in March that of the billions of dollars which passed through his hands during his three-decade-long scam he never invested one cent in the market. Instead he stashed the funds in a Chase Manhattan bank account. Later he used some of the moneyto pay out 'dividends' to investors.

Investigators do still not know how much money was stolen by Madoff and his family and accomplices. Prosecutors say that $ 170 billion flowed through the principal Madoff account over the decades, and that weeks before the crook's arrest last December the firm's statements showed a total of $ 65 billion in accounts. But the trustee winding down the Madoff operation has so far collected only $ 1.2 billion which should be returned to investors.

Before the big swindle came to light, the investors were just too greedy to even touch the boat, left alone rock it. As long as their cheques were coming in on time, they did not ask any questions.
The fact that most of them were Jewish also played a significant role. There is still this strange myth of 'the chosen people', the belief that 'God' has for some reason selected Jews to rule the world and thus gives them better chances and more skills than other people have.
For years some of the biggest names in American Jewry were queuing to see fellow Jew Bernard Madoff and give him money. There was apparently no-one who knew more about money and investment than he. At least that was the whisper around synagogues, luxury saunas and golf clubs.

Well, 'pride cometh before the fall', as a famous Jewish book - the Bible - tells us. And greed comes before the bust, I hasten to add in the same spirit.

All the people who are now crying for their money, spitting on Madoff and applauding his long jail sentence, are the very same people who were singing his praise up to six months ago, and giving him ever more money 'to invest'.
None of them ever used his (or her) brains and questioned the possibilities of Madoff's steady success. If he could do that, why was no-one else able to do it, too? After all, we live in an open society and there are very few secrets left in the world of business and finance. If someone finds a new way to phenomenal success, there are soon scores of people following the same line. But no-one followed Madoff. This should have made many people suspicious. But their own greed blinded them.

And thus - I have to say - they are at least partly responsible for the big mess they find themselves in now. Without their only too willing co-operation the fraudster and thief Bernard Madoff could not have done it.
So I will not be able to feel sorry for them and see them as the 'poor victims of crime'. They are very rich victims of a crime they helped to commit.

"I leave a legacy of shame to my family. I am responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain. And I live in a tormented state," Madoff told the court. However, it did not make a great impression. His defence lawyers had hoped and argued that "a 12-year sentence would be severe enough", but the Judge was not willing to be lenient in a case of such dimensions.

So the 71-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison and die there. Which - in my opinion - serves him right and is more than fair. He spent seven decades - the vast majority of his life - in great wealth and luxury. And given his age, he will probably not be incarcerated for too many years.

However, there is one thing in this case that makes no sense. And that is the actual length of the sentence. Anyone knows that the average life expectancy of a human being in the western world is currently somewhere between 70 and 80 years, depending on country, health and other elements. So what is the point of sending someone to prison for about twice the time of his natural life? Are they keeping dead bodies incarcerated in the USA if their sentence is not yet fully served? I doubt it.

So what is the point? Frankly, I cannot see one. Why not just give someone like Madoff a life sentence - without parole - which really means 'imprisonment for life'. Many people - myself included - have problems with taking a legal system (and the country it serves) for serious when it has such irrational and ridiculous sentences.

Bernard Madoff is not the only case where a totally irrational sentence was passed. American jails are full with people on sentences lasting several centuries. People are regularly given multiple life sentences, and even multiple death sentences.

With regards to Bernard Madoff, they can put him in and throw away the key, as far as I am concerned. The man did wrong in a big way and harmed many people in the process. And all for nothing but greed. So he deserves to rot in prison (and afterwards in Hell, if there is such a place).

But in the interest of sincerity and common sense the irrational sentences passed by US courts should be examined and the whole legal system reformed to make it more realistic and believable. As President Obama is a lawyer and Professor of Law, maybe he could bring his influence to bear on this matter. It could do a lot of good to America.

The Emerald Islander

29 June 2009

Child Benefit is Lenihan's next Target

Mary Hanafin (left), the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, has confirmed that the Irish government will soon "reduce the amount it is spending on child benefit payments".

In future the payments are to be either means-tested or taxed, but a decision which of these two options would be more appropriate has not been made yet.

The matter will eventually be decided by the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan (right), who is currently more than € 10 billion short of his budget and has to find at least another € 4 billion in savings and spending reductions this year. It is expected that he will wait with his decision until he has received a report from the Commission on Taxation, which is due shortly.

According to Mary Hanafin the universal child benefit is costing the State € 2.5 billion per year. And since child benefit is so far paid to every mother who has a child or children, regardless of income and social status, the scheme is a natural target for Brian Lenihan.

Politicians from different parties and various interest groups have openly criticised the 'free for all' child benefit in the past, making the point that it is also paid to people who are certainly not in need of it (like millionaires and very well-off professionals and civil servants).

Social conservatives have also remarked that the generous payment of child benefit - regardless of circumstances - is one of the main reasons for the high rate of unmarried young mothers and teenage pregnancies in Ireland.

Although I would not regard myself as conservative, I agree with this point. In fact, I would go much further than the government is contemplating. I would abolish universal child benefit completely, and thus save the State at least € 2 billion per annum.

The idea of child benefit payments is a relatively recent addition to the government's social welfare budget, and it is a fact that there was never a shortage of children when there was no child benefit available from the State. Quite the opposite, actually, as birth rates were much higher in the past than they are now.
And somehow most of the children born without the taxpayers' financial assistance were brought up without problems. There were a lot more stable families in the past, and much less unmarried young mothers and teenage pregnancies.

So it could well be argued that child benefit, initially intended to support mothers on the lower end of the social scale who were really struggling to make ends meet, has become an unintended stimulant for less stable families and a lot more single mothers who can live quite comfortably on a combination of social welfare, child benefit, housing benefit and various other benefits available to them.

There are plenty of girls and young women in Ireland who see an early child as their ticket to social and financial security. Most of them come still from the lower end of the social scale, and many are poorly educated. When they leave school, there are few jobs or careers open to them. They might find a low-paid job in a supermarket, but that would pay them less than they can make on state benefits, if they have at least one child.

I know plenty of such cases here, and not far from where I live there is a communal housing estate with about twenty houses, all of which are occupied by single mothers and their children. The rent they are charged by the Council is minimal, and if they play their cards right, they can receive additional benefits in kind, such as a certain amount of free electricity and telephone units each month, a free TV licence (which costs € 162 per annum for other people) and a winter fuel allowance for the cold half of the year. Some have even managed to get free bus passes.

For these women having children out of wedlock has become a very profitable 'business', and usually they have a few children by different fathers before the age of 30. Apart from various visiting boyfriends there is hardly ever a man to be seen in that housing estate, and not one of the women is in a stable relationship.

I am no moralising prude and have no problems with women who have children out of wedlock. But I do resent that I - and all the other Irish taxpayers - are made to pay for it. Every weekend one can see scores of these single mothers flocking to the various bars, discos and night clubs in the city, scantily clad and with plenty of money to spend on their weekly 'big night out'.
Personally I am not interested in that sort of lifestyle, and I don't take alcoholic drinks. But even if I would be attracted by it, as a hard-working single man I could not afford such extravagance on a regular basis.

So I do think that the abolition of universal child benefit would do a lot more good to our nation and society than it would cause hardship to some. Those mothers who are in real need should of course be supported by the State. A means-tested child benefit, integrated into the normal social welfare scheme, could take care of that.
And it would cost the State not more than € 500 million a year. Which means that by making such a clean cut, Brian Lenihan would have already half of the sum he needs to save this year.

There would most likely be an outcry from certain quarters, such as radical feminists, ultra-liberals and various soft-minded do-gooders. But that would not be for long, especially if the State is fair with mothers who really need help, but firm with those who use child benefit payments to finance their fashion clothes, fancy shoes and the weekly 'big night out'.

Due to the recession and the massive increase in unemployment in recent months Ireland's social welfare payments have increased "very significantly", as Mary Hanafin put it. There are now many families, as well as single people, for whom the bare survival depends on the weekly payment of basic social welfare. These payments cannot be reduced, unless the State wants to risk widespread extreme poverty, social unrest and a serious increase in petty crime.

On the other hand it is quite clear that the current social welfare budget of € 21 billion per annum is - as the Minister stated - "just too much" for Ireland in the current economic crisis.

Child benefit is not only the most obvious and logical target for a spending cut, it is also the most fair from an overall perspective. If people want to have children, it should be their responsibility to look after them and pay for their upbringing and education. There is absolutely no reason why people who are childless should pay for the children of other people.

Children are a blessing, and childless people often suffer enough emotionally and mentally from the fact that they are without offspring. It is extremely unfair to burden them financially with children other people produce in a carefree or careless way, expecting the State to pick up the bill for decades to come.

In the housing estate I mentioned above there is a 'family' of women, consisting of meanwhile three generations of unmarried mothers and their children. The head of this 'family', a woman in her late forties, had four daughters out of wedlock, each by a different father. Her eldest daughter, now in her early thirties, has three daughters out of wedlock. And her eldest has just given birth to her first child - another daughter - at the age of 15!
None of them was ever married or in a stable relationship. And none of them has ever worked a single day. All they do is to live a rather comfortable and secure life, have children out of wedlock, and expect the State to pay for it all.

I don't want to give the impression of being too harsh, but in my opinion this all-female 'family' is nothing but a bunch of feckless parasites.

Abolish universal child benefit, and they might well be forced to live forthwith in the real world. They might still carry on with their immoral and selfish lifestyle, especially as they are by now so used to it, but at least Ireland's taxpayers would no longer be forced to finance it.

As regular readers of this weblog know, I am not a friend of the current Irish government. But if Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin have the guts to abolish universal child benefit, I would be the first to applaud and congratulate them.

The Emerald Islander

28 June 2009

Leinster House as a political Theme Park

For the second time Leinster House (left), the Dublin seat of the Oireachtas - Ireland's parliament - has been turned into a political theme park this weekend.

After a trial run last summer, John O'Donoghue (photo below right), the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker of the Dáil), decided to turn the august halls of Irish power once again into a temporary political version of Disneyland for two hot days in late June.

8000 tickets, O'Donoghue stated in a rather pompous manner, "have been made available to members of the public" to visit Leinster House for the "Oireachtas Family Day". And they were apparently "booked up within 24 hours".

Who is the "Oireachtas Family"? Are we talking about the 166 TDs (members of the Dáil), 60 Senators and all their extended families and relatives? Perhaps the quite numerous - and usually unnamed - civil servants and other staff members who make the parliamentary machine work are also included with their families? That would easily make up 8000 people.

But no, John O'Donoghue said the "Family Day" - actually two days on Saturday and Sunday - was meant for "members of the public". In politico speak this means the plebs, the 'ordinary people', also referred to as 'the great unwashed'. In other words, people like you and me, who do not have the privileges and exorbitant incomes of professional politicians.

"Members of the public"!

I really hate this phrase with a vengeance. Better than any other it signifies the deep divide that exists between those in power and the rest of the nation. In the eyes of our politicians we are not more than "the public", the paying audience for their lavish freak show that masquerades as a parliament.

But then again, we are only ourselves to blame for that. After all, our politicians cannot just walk into Leinster House and take their well-upholstered seats. No, we - "the members of the public" - send them there when we vote for them (directly for the TDs, and indirectly through our local councillors for the Senators). So we are responsible for the bunch of wasters, clowns, ignorants and incompetents that populate Leinster House with our five-year-mandate.
If we cared for our country, its political stability and our future, we would elect better people to represent us in the Oireachtas.

But - for some reasons that have been a mystery to me all my life - we don't. We are so lazy and disinterested in politics that we keep electing the same kind of people - and often the very same people - again and again, no matter how badly they treat us and how incompetent they are in governing the country.

So we should not be surprised that they treat us with the contempt we deserve. They do award themselves enormous salaries, with lavish extra fees and 'expenses allowances' on top of their 'normal pay' and exorbitant pensions for their comfortable retirement, and we - the taxpayers - foot the bill. They give themselves extensive holidays - called recesses - which make teachers' holidays look short, and when they are actually sitting, they only work three days a week - from Tuesday to Thursday. The other four days of the week, a regular long weekend from Friday to Monday, are apparently needed "to look after the constituencies".

Ask yourself: When have you last seen a TD going around and 'looking after the constituency'? The only time they do that is during an election campaign, when they want and need our votes to retain their luxurious and easy lifestyle.
From time to time they appear at sports venues or at cultural events - always on free tickets - or they might open some new building, factory or shop. That's about it. The rest is really the longest regular weekend anyone can ever dream of. (Senators do not have constituencies, but enjoy the same three-day week and long weekend as TDs.)

No wonder then that these 226 people see themselves as a privileged elite and the rest of us as nothing more than their "public", the paying crowd that keeps them in luxury and is supposed to applaud their performances.

It is quite interesting that the Oireachtas' first "Family Day" last year coincided with increased anger in "the public" and a fall in the approval ratings of most leading politicians.
The announcement of the first "Family Day" was made just one day before the country voted on the Lisbon Treaty, and the event took place only two weeks after it had been defeated by a clear majority of the Irish electorate.

The organisers, and especially John O'Donoghue, made a big noise about the day (last year it was really only one day - Sunday, June 29th) and praised it already as a success two weeks before it actually happened. He even commissioned a special website to promote the "Family Day", and money was clearly thrown at it in bundles.

Besides all sorts of music, food and "street entertainment" one of the highlights of the day were "Tours of the Oireachtas". They were advertised on the official website with the statement that "for the first time, members of the public can visit both the Dáil and Seanad Chambers". Which, of course, is a blatant lie.

Anyone who has even the slightest bit of knowledge of our parliament knows that the sessions of Dáil and Seanad are held in public. Anyone who wishes to attend can do so and observe the proceedings from the visitors' gallery. Those who do that will have the added benefit that they actually see politicians in action, while all they see on the "Family Day" are the empty chambers of both houses of the Oireachtas. *

So, apart from empty debating chambers, what would be the 'attractions' of Leinster House on a "Family Day"?

Well, there is music - from traditional Irish to weird-looking and even weirder sounding African drummers whose understanding of Democracy matches about that of our TDs - and a number of food stalls. The odd professional juggler and clown is thrown in for good measure, and of course there cannot be any event in Ireland these days without the idiotic practice of face painting.
What is the point in getting acrylic paint smeared over one's face? I find it filthy, disgusting and unhealthy (as it can affect the skin and prevent proper perspiration). And if I had the power, I would make it illegal.

There is one other and indeed 'political' attraction: The re-enactment of famous speeches from the 90-year-long history of the Oireachtas.
Being myself a passionate public speaker (who has won speaking and debating medals in several countries for contributions in three languages and trained many people in the skill), this is the only element of the event I would be interested in. It would be educating - and perhaps even entertaining - to see and hear current politicians repeating the great speeches of the past.

How would the boorish Brian Cowen fare with a solemn oration of Eamon de Valera? Or meek and mild-mannered Enda Kenny with a fiery election rally address of Michael Collins?
Could Eamon Gilmore emulate the speeches of James Connolly, or Michael D. Higgins repeat the powerful words of the great trade union organiser James Larkin? I imagine that Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin might do rather well with the words of Sinn Fein's founder Arthur Griffith, but I could see neither Mary Coughlan nor Mary Hanafin re-enact the hot-tempered speeches of Countess Constance Markiewicz. Perhaps Mary Harney might give it a try...

But, sadly, we will see and hear none of the above. Most of our current TDs are truly abysmal speakers, and they know it. Sitting through several hours of debating in the Dáil can easily make one fall asleep (and TDs have been noticed for that), or lose the will to live. (The rhetoric quality in the Seanad is a bit better, but leaves also much room for improvement.)
So, instead of exposing themselves to "members of the public" as the uninspiring wafflers they are, the politicians hired a troupe of Dublin's trainee actors (fully qualified actors are probably too expensive these days) to perform selected pieces of vintage debates.

For the young thespians this was probably an interesting and valuable exercise (with a welcome extra income on top), but for the listening "public" it was rather disappointing. A great speech is not just a collection of sentences. The delivery is as important as the words are. And here the concept fell down. Even with the best of effort a young woman cannot produce the effect Michael Collins or James Connolly had with their speeches, and a young man is not able to bring across the special personality of Eamon de Valera. So the whole idea of reproducing famous speeches from the past - which is a good one in principle - was rather lost due to the weak performances.

There were some side shows that attracted limited interest from children, but nothing really that would make politics appear as more interesting or bring it closer to the people. A Dublin performer was advertised as "blending sophisticated humour with jaw dropping magic". Maybe Brian Cowen could learn a thing or two from him. But the Taoiseach was nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps he was advised to stay away, in order to avoid unfriendly acts from "members of the public". People in Dublin still remember Wicklow pensioner Gary Keogh and his eggs at the AGM of Allied Irish Bank... (see my entry of May 13th) Who knows how many angry Irishmen are out there with more eggs in their pockets?

For a moment I thought that Brian Cowen had - as he often does - ignored the advice given to him and was appearing in Leinster House after all. However, the man announced as "Ireland's best bilingual juggler" turned out to be not the Taoiseach, but one Johnny Phelan, apparently "the only Irish juggling act that is sponsored by the Arts Council".

Well, all you aspiring authors and struggling little theaters around the country who have been told that there is now no more financial support for you "because of budget cuts at the Arts Council", perhaps you should all become jugglers to be funded with taxpayers' money...

Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue, one of Fianna Fáil's most pig-headed old apparatchiks and a kind of political juggler himself, says that "the level of interest in the Family Day makes a clear statement that people do wish to connect with their parliament, their politicians and the political process".

Well, here is a great example of wishful thinking, if you ever need one.

About half of the people attending were political activists from various parties, who were there to show their party colours or to support a particular TD. There were some groups of old-age pensioners, Chinese students and African immigrants who had been brought in especially and on purpose, but they did neither fit in, nor did they know what to do or what the whole thing was about. They were sitting or standing around, quite forlorn and a bit puzzled. The old folks just sat there and stared into an empty distance, while the Chinese - always trying to be polite - smiled all the time and looked like a bunch of dolls from the wax museum. The Africans, with expressionless faces, concentrated on the food and stayed well away from the rest.

The Irish visitors were not excited either. One only had to look into their faces to see that they felt bewildered, and often quite bored. And there were also loads of very bored children, dragged along by their parents and wondering why they had not gone to the seaside instead. They were interested in the ice cream on offer, but not in politics or the parliament. And in fact, there was no parliament on offer anyway. The Houses of the Oireachtas are the people elected to them, not the building and two empty debating chambers.

To be fair, there were quite a few TDs and Senators present, trying to make the best of it. And John O'Donoghue was walking around pompously like a king, shaking graciously the hands of little children. (Could there be any connection with the fact that his home county Kerry is often referred to as "the kingdom"?)
But none of the political heavyweights bothered to attend. They had better things to do than meeting "members of the public" in a tacky little political Disneyland their 'home' had been turned into for the weekend.

I can understand why politicians are interested in polishing their image and getting 'closer to the people'. Turnouts in elections have been falling over years, and many Irish people - especially from the younger generations - have no interest in politics at all. Pop music, consumerism and the 24-hour entertainment culture are more attractive to them.
And the schools are not doing their job either, it appears.
"What county is he playing for, Dad" a little boy aged about ten asked his father when the name Michael Collins was mentioned by a Leinster House tour guide.
If this is the standard of knowledge these days, then I see not much of a future for Ireland.

In principle it is a good idea to bring the people and their parliament closer together. The better one understands the political system and the process of making decisions, the more one will appreciate freedom and Democracy. And one is also more likely to become actively involved in politics oneself.
But closing the gap between politicians and the general population will not be achieved through 'fun' and turning the parliament building into the country's largest fast food outlet for a weekend. Popcorn and ice cream are not political arguments, and no jazz band, magician or juggler** will increase the popularity and approval rates of our elected leaders.

Parliament is a serious place, and it should be taken seriously by everyone, especially those who are part of it.
By pretending for a weekend that Leinster House is just a happy little fun fair on Dublin's Kildare Street "the public" - and in particular the many children who were dragged into the experience - will get a completely wrong and counter-productive impression of it.

If one wants to popularise parliament, then the people need to see it at work and not when it is empty and shut down for the weekend (and only days away from another ludicrous three-month holiday).
People should be encouraged and invited to attend regular sessions and debates, and have the opportunity to meet their local TDs (regardless of party) over a cup of tea afterwards.
And on their free days - like Mondays or Fridays - TDs should visit schools in their constituency and chair organised debates on various subjects, political and non-political.

There should also be a lot more transparency, which could begin with politicians using language everyone understands. Most bills passed into law by the Oireachtas are written in an antiquated and artificially complicated language that no-one ever speaks in daily life. This so-called 'legal English' has only one purpose: To keep the vast majority of people in hock to the members of the legal profession, who charge hefty fees for their services.

And - surprise, surprise - many of our TDs have been trained as lawyers before they entered politics. This self-serving circle neeeds to be broken, and politicians need to have experience of real life before they get elected to parliament. Only then will they have a chance to be closer to the electorate. It can be done, and it would be well worth doing.

The current economic crisis is a heavy burden on most of us, but it also opens opportunities for fundamental changes that no-one would even dare to contemplate during 'good' times. Here lies the chance for the whole nation, and in particular for our politicians. Get things right this time, by making proper changes, and popularity will come along for free.

There is no need - and no demand - for a fun fair in and around Leinster House once a year. The money spent on it could be used much more sensibly, and with much better results. An open and transparent parliament, whose members are realistic and approachable, while sharing the same burden we all have to carry, would do wonders for the popularity of the Oireachtas.

It would also help to maintain the dignity of the Ceann Comhairle. Prancing around like 'King Puck' (of the well-known annual fair in his home county Kerry), while grinning all the time like the proverbial gingerbread horse is not quite the image one would like to have of the man who presides over the sessions of the Dáil. He is supposed to be the primus inter pares (first among equals), and not the biggest bear with little brains amongst 166 Poohs.

The golden rule of common sense should also be applied to the Houses of the Oireachtas: Think before you act; and when it comes to 'entertaining the people', less is often more. (I will send a copy of this entry to John O'Donoghue, and it will be interesting to see if he is able to listen, learn and change.)
To the vast majority of Irish people who have not been at the "Family Day" at Leinster House I can only say: Well done. You were wise to stay away and have certainly not missed anything. It was neither fun, nor interesting or inspiring. It was just another example how our incompetent politicians can make a mess of everything they touch.

The Emerald Islander

** On top of seeing nothing but two empty debating chambers (which one can see on television several times a week) and a few equally empty corridors connecting them, the people who put themselves through this are also herded like cattle by the Leinster House staff and have to queu - some for hours - to qualify for this 'rare privilege'.
And to avoid any misunderstanding, the rules are laid out plainly on the official Oireachtas website:
"Tours of Leinster House will be available on a first come first served basis with access for 1500 people approx. Visitors interested in taking the tour are advised that on arrival they should go directly to the start of tour location at the Leinster House entrance to ensure that they are accommodated."
Well, if this is an "open approach" to make the Oireachtas "more transparent", then my name is Harun al-Rashid!
It looks and sounds a lot more like the Victorian mindset of our former colonial masters, which has somehow survived for 90 years in the hearts and minds of our politicial elite and - even more so - our civil service and legal profession. If it were not so serious, one might mistake it for the hilarious attempt of making a practical joke.

** I still cannot get over the job title "Ireland's best bilingual juggler". Juggling requires a combination of physical and technical skills and has nothing to do with language. So what is the point of making such a distinction? If I would have the skills to juggle, would I be 'Ireland's best trilingual juggler'? Where does it end? It makes no sense.
If he is a good juggler, then that is reputation enough. And if he is not, his ability to speak Irish will be of no help at all.
By the way, how many bilingual jugglers are there in Ireland? Nobody seems to know. So who made the stupid judgement on Mr. Phelan? Maybe he is the only one, which would make it easy to be the best.
The whole way of this promotion shows the insular narrow-mindedness of many Irish people and the idiotic way we - and in particular semi-state bodies and their advertisement agencies - look at ourselves. It is the same mentality that makes us concentrate on sports no-one else in the world plays, and that sent a turkey puppet as our official entry to the Eurovision song contest. Some of us might well find it 'funny', but they will be alone with this. Certain forms of humour simply don't travel well.
It might be helpful if someone would also tell the people in the Arts Council, and in the many other semi-state bodies and organisations, that we have reached the 21st century and that paddy-whacking leprechauns have long passed their sell-by date.

27 June 2009

Unionist Terrorist Groups in the North follow the IRA's Example and put Weapons "beyond Use"

The leadership of the so-called 'Ulster Volunteer Force' (UVF) and the 'Red Hand Commando' (which is a nome-de-guerre for elements of the same organisation) have today confirmed that they have completed the process of "putting all their weaponry irreversibly beyond use".

The official announcement was made at a press conference in Belfast this morning, held by Billy Hutchinson (right), a former UVF activist who has spent time in prison for his involvement in terrorism, but who renounced violence many years ago and is now a supporter of the peace process in the North of Ireland.

The UVF declared that its weapons were "put beyond use" in conjunction with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), and in the presence of independent international witnesses.

"We have done so to further augment the establishment of accountable democratic governance in this region of the UK, to remove the pretext that loyalist weaponry is an obstacle to the development of our communities and to compound our legacy of integrity to the peace process," a spokesman of the terror group said.

The IICD, an international group of military experts and political observers which is chaired by the retired Canadian General John de Chastelain (left), confirmed the decommissioning of UVF (and 'Red Hand Commando') weapons.

In another part of Belfast the so-called 'Ulster Defence Association' (UDA), an even larger Unionist terror organisation, released a separate statement, confirming that it has now "decommissioned a portion of its arsenal" and has started a process that would lead to the destruction of all its arms.

With these announcements the Unionist (and Protestant) terror groups in the North are at last following the positive example of the Nationalist 'Provisional Irish Republican Army' (PIRA, but commonly often just called the IRA), which had already decommissioned all its weapons in several stages between 2002 and 2005.
This process was also witnessed and confirmed by General de Chastelain and other members of the IICD.

Politicians from all parties - in the North, in the Republic and in Britain - have welcomed today's announcement in a number of individual statements.

Making one of her quite rare political comments, Mary McAleese (right) - the President of the Republic of Ireland, who comes from the North herself - also welcomed the long-awaited development, which is one of the last steps in the peace process that began in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking in Dublin, the President said: "This is a very important step in building and consolidating peace in Northern Ireland. It signals a turning away from a culture of conflict towards a culture of good neighbourliness, within the North and on the entire island of Ireland."

26 June 2009

Avoid Dublin - and save Money!

Ireland as a whole has always been an expensive country to live in, and it still is. Prices here are on average at least twice as high as in most other EU countries, and often even higher. There is also a clear difference between Dublin and the rest of the island.

Ireland's Central Statistics Office (CSO) has just published its regular comparison of prices in Dublin with the costs for certain goods and services outside the capital. The report shows that many prices are "generally higher" in Dublin, while the prices of most services are listed as "significantly higher" in Dublin.

In May the CSO looked at 79 specific items. Average prices were higher in Dublin for 51 of these and lower for 27, while the price of only one item was the same in the capital than anywhere else. Prices of 34 items were more than 3% higher in Dublin than elsewhere.

On average, prices were 4.4% higher in Dublin than in the rest of Ireland, little changed from the 4.5% gap in the last survey, which was done in November 2008.

The biggest price gap was found in the barber and hairdressing business. A wash, cut and blow dry for a man is on average 47% more expensive in Dublin than elsewhere in the country, while the same service for a woman costs 23% more. A dry haircut for a man is 18.8% dearer in the capital.
These are staggering differences and show how much our capital is still dominated by greed. As I had only one haircut in Dublin in all my life - and that was almost 20 years ago - my experience in that field is well out date. But from my regular visits to the capital I can only confirm that the prices for almost everything are much higher than they are - for example - in Cork, Kilkenny or here in Waterford.

Prices of meat, fruit and vegetables are higher in Dublin, but fish prices are generally comparable with the rest of the country.
The average price of an uncooked chicken is an amazing 27.3% higher in Dublin, while back rashers are 24% and pork steaks 23.8% more expensive.
There follows a long list of food items that are dearer in Dublin, from which I will mention only a few: Cod fillets (+ 11.2%), eggs (+ 10.1%), tinned tomatoes (+ 8.2%), lamb chops (+ 8.1%), pork chops (+ 6.9%), mushrooms (+ 6.4%), onions (+ 6.4%), jam (+ 6.3%), 10 kg of potatoes (+ 6.0%), marmalade (+ 5.8%), broccoli (+ 5.6%), salmon (+ 4.8%), fresh tomatoes (+ 2.8%) - and so it goes on.

The situation in the drink sector is not better: Orange juice (+ 14.9%), draught lager (+ 12%), draught cider (+ 10.9%), draught ale (+ 10.1%), bottled lager (+ 9.9%), draught stout (+ 9.1%), bottled cider (+ 8.5%), vodka (+ 7.1%), whiskey (+ 5.7%) and wine (+ 5.1%).

Bread prices, however, were around 8% more expensive outside Dublin, which is most likely a result of the structure of our food industry. While in most European countries bread is usually baked locally in many independent bakeries, Ireland has very few independent local bakeries. Most of the bread consumed in this country is produced industrially in large factories, and most of them are situated in Dublin. Thus the supply route for bread is the shortest in Dublin, and the extra 8% bread costs outside the capital are likely created by the expenses caused by transport and distribution.

Prices of hotel accommodation and entertainment services such as cinema and theatres are 'significantly higher' in Dublin than elsewhere.

Petrol prices were 2.1% higher in Dublin, while Diesel was 1.7% more expensive.

The overall verdict is that - despite recession - Dublin is not just the capital of Ireland, but still the rip-off capital of Europe. So my advice is simple: Avoid Dublin as much as possible - and thus safe a lot of money.

The Emerald Islander

25 June 2009

More Jobs to be lost in Waterford

More industrial jobs will soon be lost in Waterford City.

The workers at the well-known and long-established Waterford factory of the international electrical components company ABB learned this morning that the plant will be closed at the end of March 2010, with the loss of all 178 jobs.

The company, which manufactures distribution transformers for the construction and utility markets in Ireland and the UK, says that it is closing "because of significantly lower orders and lack of potential business".

ABB (Asia-Brown-Boveri) is a well-known and stable European firm, owned mainly by Swiss and Swedish investors.
At five different locations in Ireland the company employs currently more than 400 people.

The Waterford factory, which has been in operation since 1951, has always been seen as a key element to ABB's Irish business. With its closure next Spring, the long-term presence of the firm in Ireland looks doubtful.

It is quite likely that in the current world-wide recession the management will concentrate their efforts on their main countries of interest, which are Sweden, Switzerland and Germany.

The Emerald Islander

What is the Price of a Woman's Virtue?

Yesterday evening a jury at the High Court in Dublin has made legal history by awarding the by far highest ever amount of damages to a litigant in a libel case in Ireland.

Monica Leech (left), a prominent communications consultant from Waterford, won her long-running libel action against Tony O'Reilly's Independent Newspapers (the country's largest media group) and was awarded a record € 1.87 million in damages.

She successfully claimed that the Evening Herald, which is Dublin's last afternoon newspaper and owned by the Independent group, had published false allegations that she got public contracts as a PR consultant because she was having an extra-marital affair with Waterford Fianna Fáil-TD Martin Cullen (right), who was at the time junior minister in charge of the Office of Public Works (OPW) and then promoted to cabinet rank as the Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government.

Independent Newspapers had denied libel and Judge Eamon de Valera (a namesake and also a relative of the late President and Taoiseach) had said he would accept an unanimous verdict. A jury of seven women and five men began its deliberations just before 2 pm yesterday afternoon and delivered the surprise verdict in the evening.

After the verdict was announced in court, Monica Leech said that justice had been done. She was "delighted" and had been "vindicated".
It is no surprise that Independent Newspapers did not share her view. A rather shocked looking lawyer for the media group said that they would be appealing to the Supreme Court.

Which means that the matter - which has already created legal costs in the area of € 500,000 - will drag on for many more months and cost most likely another € 100,000 before the Supreme Court makes a decision.
Going by legal practice and past experience, it is most likely that the Supreme Court will rule the award as 'too high' and refer the case back to the High Court, where the whole procedure will then have to be repeated.
And since under existing Irish law juries cannot be told how much damages they can award, the result could again be quite a surprise for lawyers and participants in the case.

Leaving the facts, details and merits of this case aside for a moment, it is an excellent example for the sad fact that the legal system in Ireland (like in other countries using the Anglo-Saxon case law) exists predominantly for the benefit and large secure incomes of the legal professionals who run it.
Plaintiffs and defendants are never more than statists, uninitiated extras in an elaborate stage play they do not really understand, but whose production costs they have to pay, no matter what.

Looking at the case itself, there is meanwhile so much of it that it would easily fill a book. Five years ago, when the forceful Mrs. Leech worked for Minister Martin Cullen, many people saw a bit more in that than just a normal working relationship between consultant and client.
And the way things go, people gossiped, someone had a suspicion, and that led to a rumour.
After a while the always news-hungry reporters from the tabloid papers got hold of it, and when they had nothing better to write about, they created and printed the story of 'Monica and the Minister'. Without checking the facts or digging deeper, a few more serious media outlets joined in and re-printed the story.

By the time it reached Waterford and the desk of Monica Leech, it was too late. The damage was done, and for quite some time it was an open whisper that she had an affair with Martin Cullen.
I heard it myself, and it made even me - a man with no interest whatsoever in people's private lives - think.

Now, I do have the benefit of knowing both individuals personally. On the basis of that I think it is very unlikely that Monica Leech would have an affair with Martin Cullen. (In fact, it is hard to imagine Martin Cullen, a short and meagre-looking Fianna Fáil weasel with little personality or leadership qualities, in intimate company of any woman at all... But then again, since even the greyest of all grey politicians - John Major - managed to have an affair, one can never be entirely certain.)

No-one really knows if the media story did damage Monica's career or reputation, but she went for every single paper and medium that helped spreading it like an avenging angel, the flaming sword in hand. In separate cases she sued the Irish Independent, the Evening Herald, the Irish Mail (& Mail on Sunday) and RTÉ.
The latter two settled their cases out of Court and paid her sizeable amounts of compensation, but Tony O'Reilly and his Independent Group decided to fight the case.

Now they have the largest libel judgement in the history of the state against them. And even if - as expected - the Supreme Court should reduce the amount, it will still be a hefty sum.

Which brings me to the question of the compensation. € 1.87 million is a very large amount of money, even for a fairly well-to-do woman like Monica Leech. If she wanted, she could retire on such a sum and live happily and comfortably on the interest from it.

The jury obviously thought her worth of it, but does it really reflect the 'injury' or 'damage' done to her by the media?
If this had been a personal injury case, she would have to be at least paralysed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life to receive a compensation award of that magnitude.

But she is not. She is in fact a very fit and agile 49-year-old, brimming with ideas and energy. So what is the huge amount of money compensating her for? She never struck me as particularly vulnerable or fragile. Quite the opposite. She is a strong and forceful woman, and never anyone's fool. In recent years - after the rumours about her and Martin Cullen appeared - she was chief executive of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce, and thus I saw quite a lot of her.
It never occurred to me that she could be hurt or insulted easily.

Yet this is exactly what she claimed in Court now several times, and so far always successfully. I presume the really crucial point is that the sloppy reporters did not do their homework. They had no proof for their allegations, which is simply bad journalism and deserves to be punished. But is € 1.87 million the right kind of punishment for them? After all, it is not the journalists who wrote the story who pay. Their publisher is sued and has to pay up.

Some people have suggested that the money awarded to Monica Leech is compensation for the damage done to her reputation as a 'woman of virtue'. Since she is married and mother of two children, I can understand this to a certain extend.
But does this mean that the virtue of every woman in Ireland is worth € 1.87 million? If so, we will soon have a rather large number of female millionaires in the country. And if not, what is the cash value of a woman's virtue?

Does it depend on her age, her education, her looks or her achievements? If the virtue of Monica Leech's is worth € 1.87 million, what would be the sum awarded in compensation for the same libellous action to a female cabinet minister, Supreme Court Judge, or - for argument's sake - the President?

I am of course no lawyer, but I think this case is asking more questions than it has answered. In my humble opinion Ireland is in need of a serious and wide-ranging legal reform. And one of the areas for which we need a more clearly defined law is certainly the complex of slander, libel and deformation.
On the European continent, where civil as well as criminal law is codified and applied a lot more fairly, these matters are defined in every detail and the amounts of available compensation are also set out in law. No jury has the leeway to do what they want, and no 'surprises' are sprung on litigants or judges.

Ever since Labour-TD Mervyn Taylor became Minister for Justice in the 'Rainbow Coalition', the Department of Justice carries the annex 'and Law Reform'. However, this has so far not produced any significant changes to the arcane and class-based legal system the English left us with when they moved out of 26 of our counties in 1922.

We are supposed to deal with the problems of the 21st century, but in order to do it, we still use a legal system created in the 17th and 18th century, and slightly amended in the 19th and early 20th century. So when it comes to the Law, we are literally stuck in a time warp.

The sooner we solve this problem, the sooner we will have a more realistic and more functional legal system. In the meantime Monica Leech can enjoy her sudden windfall, while Tony O'Reilly is probably kicking himself and someone in the office of Independent Newspapers is trying to work out how they can recoup nearly two million Euros from the subscribers and readers of their papers.

The Emerald Islander

Irish Unemployment Rate now 10.2%

The latest official figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Dublin reveal that there has been a sharp fall in the overall number of people at work in Ireland.

The unemployment rate stands now at 10.2%, which is the highest level since 1997.

In the first three months of this year - up to and including March - there was a decrease of 158,500 (or 7.5%) in the number of people in employment.

The worst affected sector was the construction industry, where the number of employed people fell by 28.6%.

24 June 2009

Donegal has no Money for Gweedore Clean-up

After more than 24 hours of embarrassing silence (during which not even their official website mentioned the flash floods at Gweedore - and the various related local traffic restrictions - with a single word) Donegal County Council has eventually woken up and issued a first statement on the matter.

One would have expected some words of support for the battered community at Gweedore, but no such friendliness was offered to the victims of freak weather conditions by the 29 Councillors who were only elected to their positions on the 5th of this month.

In fact, the only statement issued by a Council spokesman today came as a shock to residents and businesspeople in Gweedore, who spent the day assessing damage to their properties and cleaning up after the torrential rain and floods as good as they could.

While parts of the Gaeltacht community at the Atlantic coast are still covered by inches of water (photo right) and eager Council officials were driving around the area to assess the damage flood waters and landslides have done to the roads and bridges (which are their responsibility), the Council spokesman simply declared: "Donegal has no money to pay for the clean-up at Gweedore."

Is it really that easy in the banana republic Ireland has become under twelve years of Fianna Fáil government to cast off public responsibilities?

It seems that the freshly elected clowns in Co. Donegal are at least giving it a real try. And they only do it because the local election is over and thus they are safe in their seats for the next five years. They would never dare to even think of such an arrogant and ignorant attitude if election day were still to come.

Obviously the whole country is in recession and suffering on top of that from a serious financial crisis, mostly of our own making. So money is tight everywhere, not just in Co. Donegal.
However, in a case like this - with freak torrential rainfall and subsequent flash floods that hit Gweedore yesterday - the least one could and should expect from one's County Council is some solidarity, support and positive action.

But all the good citizens of Gweedore are getting from their elected local representatives are the usual incompetence of Irish politicians, a lame excuse and the stingy attempt to pass the buck on grounds of insolvency. No-one on Donegal County Council seems to have a thought for the hundreds of people who were directly affected by yesterday's freak weather and whose houses and/or business premises are damaged now as a result.

So far the only - and thus lonely - voice of support for the people of Gweedore is that of local Fine Gael TD Dinny McGinley (left).
The outspoken and popular opposition politician promised to raise a question in the Dáil about some emergency funding being provided to help the people of the parish.
If he will be successful with this remains to be seen. Every Irish government department is currently trying to safe money, while Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is attempting the impossible: to balance the state's books at a time of massive deficit. (see also my entry of June 3rd)

However, as Gweedore is the largest Gaeltacht parish in the whole of Ireland, there should at least be some money from the Department of Community & Gaeltacht Affairs available for its people in a time of need.
I will be following the debate in the Dáil on this matter with great interest.

The Emerald Islander

P.S. - For a detailed report on the freak weather conditions that hit Gweedore yesterday, please look below for my entry from earlier today.

Small and medium-size Businesses in Danger

Two thirds of small and medium sized businesses in Ireland are under threat due to the current economic crisis, a new survey suggests.

The data has just been published by the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), and the business trends analysis suggests that smaller companies are facing higher reductions in employment, investment and sales.

Over 600 companies responded to the survey, and 66% said that the viability of their business will be "under threat over the next twelve months" if present conditions remain. The current business environment was described as "poor" or "very poor" by 74% of the enterprises, up from 69% in the previous quarter.

Main concern at present is the ongoing economic uncertainty.

Almost half of the companies surveyed blamed the Irish government for the economic crisis, while 31% said the financial institutions (banks) were primarily at fault.

“The latest survey figures confirm that even though smaller businesses are usually more optimistic, there is little evidence of green shoots in the sector. In fact the second quarter has proven to be more difficult than the first quarter with a noticeable deterioration in sales, employment and investment,” says Jim Curran (left), the Head of Research at ISME.

The report suggests - he added - that Ireland's small businesses are continuing to downsize, with many companies planning to reduce employment numbers and investment levels further over the next number of months.

Commenting on the report, Cork TD Deirdre Clune (right), who is Fine Gael's spokesperson on Innovation, said: “Ireland cannot tax its way out of recession, but can only trade its way out of recession. Exports and the SME sector will play a crucial role in that process.”

Well said, but - as always - friendly words do not solve problems.

All stands or falls with the government and its will and ability to make the right decisions. As long as the present Irish government is in office, there is no hope whatsoever.

A change of government - most likely to a coalition of Fine Gael and Labour Party - might offer some improvements, but I doubt that it would solve all the problems.

That can only be done if the government - regardless which party or parties form(s) it - has the will to apply major changes to our political, social and economic system.
After the serious damage inflicted on the 'traditional capitalist system' by its main players and participants, making repairs will not be enough. What we need is a completely fresh start.

I can see that small and medium-sized enterprises in Ireland and around the world are willing and ready for that.
But the reluctance of governments and most political parties is a huge obstacle. I am looking forward to the next report from ISME and wonder if we will have a chance to recover, or if the unholy alliance of Catholic Church, Fianna Fáil and greedy bankers have destroyed us for good...

The Emerald Islander

Clean-up starts in Co. Donegal after freak Flash Floods devastated Gweedore yesterday

A major clean-up operation has begun this morning in the western part of County Donegal after heavy sudden rainfalls caused flash flooding in the Gweedore area (archive photo above) on the Atlantic coast yesterday.

As I live at the other end of the island of Ireland, I only heard of the freak weather conditions in Co. Donegal yesterday evening. The brief entry I then wrote about it (see below) late at night was the last thing I did before going to bed. I always like to keep people informed about Ireland and what is going on here.

When I came back on-line this morning I was quite surprised to notice that more than a hundred visitors have been reading my brief report about the flash floods in Co. Donegal in less than eight hours. This is well above the average, and there was also a specific request for more detailed information on this matter. I am happy to oblige.

While most of Ireland has enjoyed a very nice summer day with blue skies, bright sunshine and temperatures well above 20 degrees Celsius yesterday, a very rare and unusual freak weather condition developed over the Atlantic coast, close to the Gweedore area of Co. Donegal, in the far Northwest of Ireland. (Such is known as a 'micro weather system' and is most likely to occur at sea or in places close to the sea.)

Without much warning the skies opened over Gweedore yesterday afternoon and vast amounts of water poured down with amazing speed, totally overwhelming drainage systems and turning local rivers and brooks into wild torrents.
Two rivers in Bunbeg burst their banks and caused wide-spread flooding, and two landslides were also registered in the area as a result of the freak weather conditions.

Although Met Éireann (Ireland's national meteorological office) did mention the "possibility of sudden rainfalls and flooding in Co. Donegal" in the national forecast on their website, most of the people in the Gweedore area were completely surprised by the sudden weather change. (Regular use of websites is not very common yet in rural Ireland...)

Gweedore - whose Irish name is Gaoth Dobhair - is a Gaeltacht (community with an Irish-speaking majority) right in the central part of the long and scenic Atlantic coast of Co. Donegal.
The community is formed by five main town lands (or villages) - Bunbeg, Derrybeg (photo above), Dunlewey, Crolly and Bloody Foreland (photo below left), which is named after the famous landmark cape nearby. The town is also close to Mount Errigal, Donegal's highest mountain (which is visible in the photo on top).

With a population of over 4000 Gweedore is actually the largest Gealtacht parish in Ireland. It is also home to the northwestern regional studios of the national Irish language radio service Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Yesterday's flash floods have caused serious damage to more than twenty houses in the area, around a dozen business premises, and many roads and bridges, mostly in the town lands of Derrybeg and Bunbeg.

Fortunately no-one was killed or injured during the ordeal, but some people in the area came quite close to being hurt. Only the quick and determined actions by Gardai and local emergency services prevented a catastrophe.

Two people had to be rescued by the Coast Guard after their house, which is situated in a hollow, was flooded by water up to eight feet high. Later a woman and her two-year-old daughter had to be rescued by boat from the second floor of a building in Bunbeg after water levels had reached 20 feet there. And residents of a nursing home had to be moved as well to keep them safe from the flooding.

Several local businesses were badly affected.
Customers and staff trapped inside by the rising waters had to be led from the premises by
Gardai, firemen and members of the Civil Defence Force who had built improvised board-walks across flooded car parks. Many local roads were closed as the waters continued to rise and rapidly engulfed the whole community (photo above right).

By this morning the flooding has subsided and Gweedore is predominantly again an area of dry land. But many spots around the district are still affected, either by pools of water or by deposits of mud.

The officials from Donegal County Council are out in force in the area now, to inspect the damage done by the floods and by the two landslides that followed.
Currently the main concern of the County Engineer and his team is the condition of the numerous bridges in the area, many of which are now regarded as 'unsafe'.
How long it will take to get Gweedore 'back to normal' is hard to say and at this moment in time anyone's guess.

Sean Campbell, the Senior Assistant Chief Fire Officer of Donegal Fire Service, described the weather as "freakish" and "extremely unusual for the area and this time of the year".

However, sudden torrential rainfalls with subsequent flash flooding is not completely unheard of in Co. Donegal. Only a little over two years ago - on June 12th, 2007 - a 'micro weather system' similar to the one encountered by Gweedore yesterday hit the town of Raphoe, in the eastern part of Co. Donegal.
It started with 90 minutes of "the worst thunder storm in the area in living memory" and caused serious damage through wide-spread flooding. But Raphoe has had problems with floods before. Two years ago local people said that it had been "the second flood to hit the town in the past nine months, and the sixth in the past ten years". (On the same day sudden rainfalls also caused flash flooding of lesser dimensions in the Donegal towns of Letterkenny and Milford.)

"The problem is that the [County] council is spending its time reacting to the flooding. This is a recurring problem and we need a more proactive approach," the local Sinn Féin Councillor Tony McDaid had told the media then.

It seems that Donegal County Council, which drastically reduced its qualified local workforce at the end of last year (see my entry of November 21st, 2008), is still playing catch-up with the problem. As much as yesterday's weather conditions in Gweedore were "freakish" and thus rare, serious flooding occurres in Co. Donegal quite regularly.

One can only hope that the newly elected County Councillors and their officials will learn lessons from yesterday and prepare their county - one of the most scenic and beautiful in the whole of Ireland - better for such 'micro weather systems' that are building up over the Atlantic and can hit Donegal at any time.
They also need to improve their communication skills. Neither yesterday nor today (until five minutes before I posted this entry) was the situation in the Gweedore area mentioned with a single word on the website of Donegal County Council.

The Emerald Islander