31 May 2009

Galway Maritime Festival attracts large Crowds

About 150,000 people from all over Ireland and from abroad have come to Galway for this long weekend to attend the city's two-week-long maritime festival, which is organised to celebrate the stop-over of the 2008/2009 Volvo Ocean Race (see my entry of May 24th).

According to experts, the Volvo Ocean Race is 'the 6th-biggest sporting event in the world', and the fastest and most expensive sailing boats ever built are taking part in the 37,000 mile round-the-globe challenge.

The Garda Síochána appeals to motorists travelling west to allow themselves "considerable additional time for their journeys", as long tail-backs are expected on the roads to Galway.

Fáilte Ireland, our usually quite useless tourist board, says that it now believes the additional income from the festival will far exceed the € 43 million it had originally predicted.

Attendance figures will set new records for a maritime event in the West of Ireland, but they will not reach the numbers Waterford has seen four years ago, when we hosted the start of the 2005 International Tall Ships' Race. In only four days, during which we had 88 sailing vessels in port - including 28 famous class A ships (which are at least 40 metres long, but many are a lot larger) - Waterford registered more than 450,000 visitors to the city (which has only about 60,000 inhabitants).

In two years' time - in early June of 2011 - we will host the same event again and I am looking forward to it already in great and happy anticipation.

The Emerald Islander

30 May 2009

Ex-Policeman charged with trafficking Women

A former police officer in the North and a woman have been remanded in custody and charged with human trafficking and controlling prostitution.

The accused, who appeared at Belfast Magistrates Court this morning, are the former policeman Simon Dempsey (39) from Newtownards in Co. Down and Chen Rong (32), a Chinese woman with an address at Kidderminster, in the English county of Worcestershire.

Both are alleged to "have facilitated the arrival of people in the UK, knowing a sexual offence would be committed".
Or, in normal English: They are accused of having smuggled Chinese prostitutes into Britain.

Last Thursday police officers raided a number of suspected brothels in Belfast, Derry and Newry and liberated six Chinese women who had been forced by a Chinese criminal gang to work there as prostitutes.

The women are now being cared for by specialist officers from Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

Police opposed bail for both accused, because the detective said he feared that they would flee the country, and interfere with identified and as yet unidentified victims.

A solicitor for Chen Rong claimed that the accused had herself been a prostitute before "being used by sinister people", while Simon Dempsey's lawyer claimed that the Chinese woman "had duped him" and that in fact "he knew nothing about the women being used as prostitutes".

Looks and sounds as if the two of them rather deserve each other.

The Magistrate refused bail for both defendants, and they were remanded in custody until June 26th.

Fianna Fáil are likely to lose their Dublin MEP, while Labour Party could win two extra Seats

A new opinion poll, published in today's edition of The Irish Times, suggests that Fianna Fáil is in real danger of losing its European Parliament seat in Dublin.

It shows that public support for the Fianna Fáil MEP Eoin Ryan (left) has slipped by a further two points to now 9%, while his political arch rival, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald (right), is currently down by three points since the last poll and stands on 11%.

However, the Socialist Party's leader and ex-TD Joe Higgins (right) has gained two points and stands now on 9%, level with Eoin Ryan.
With only six days left until election date and public anger growing, Higgins could cause an unexpected upset in the Dublin constituency by winning a seat. (And if he fails, his transfers will certainly help Mary Lou McDonald a lot more than Eoin Ryan.)

The MRBI poll also indicates that the Labour Party might have a realistic chance to gain two extra MEPs.

Senator Alan Kelly (left) in the South and Nessa Childers (right) in the East are believed to benefit from the ever growing national support for Labour. The poll suggests that they are both within reach to win a seat and thus triple the Labour Party's strength in the European Parliament. (At present, Dublin MEP Proinsias de Rossa is the sole representative of his party in Europe.)

A separate TNS-MRBI poll in yesterday's Irish Times showed Labour as the only party to make significant improvements since the last poll a fortnight ago.

I wonder if these latest poll results also indicate that the general mood of the Irish electorate is slowly shifting to the Left, and if this - on the long run - could break the stagnation in Ireland's domestic political system, which has been dominated for far too long by two right-of-centre parties: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

The Emerald Islander

29 May 2009

CSO says: Export and Import Levels are falling

Preliminary figures show that goods to the value of € 7.28 billion were exported from Ireland in March of this year. This is a 6% drop from February.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Dublin states that imports into Ireland were unchanged at a value of € 4.14 billion. The figures are adjusted to take seasonal variations into account.

Detailed figures for the first two months of 2009 show that imports slumped by 25% to the value of € 10.7 billion, as spending power in the Irish economy weakened, with imports of road vehicles plummeting by 74%.

Imports of computer equipment were down 34%, while imports of all types of machinery were "down sharply".

There was a 4% fall in exports in the first two months of 2009, compared with the same period last year, to the value of € 13.9 billion, with electrical machinery down 40% and computer equipment down 29%.

Exports to China were down 24% in the first two months of this year, while exports to Britain fell by 6%. But exports to the USA were 6% higher than in the same period of last year.

Huge Increase in Working Days lost

Official figures also show a sharp increase in the number of days lost to industrial disputes in the first three months of this year.
The CSO says that 11,327 working days were lost in that period, compared with only 1,477 days in the same period of last year.
However, these figures come from only three industrial disputes, and the main factor was a one-day strike by civil servants over the pension levy in February.

First Fall in Irish Mortgages since 1990

Ireland's property market is in stagnation as house prices are falling steadily (see my entry of May 27th) and most people have neither the money nor the will to buy property at this time of economic recession and financial insecurity.

The latest monthly statistics from the Central Bank of Ireland show now the first net fall in mortgage lending since 1990.
The bank's figures for April 2009 confirm that the Irish property market has slowed to a trickle, and in some parts of the country it has dried up completely.

It is the first time that repayments on existing mortgages have been greater than new mortgage lendings since the Central Bank began this monthly statistics series in 1990. Overall, mortgage lending fell by over € 100 million last month.

The amount of money lent out in the rest of the economy also fell, reflecting concerns raised by many business groups about their great difficulties of accessing credit, or even normal business overdraft facilities to maintain proper cash flow.

The Central Bank's statistic also shows a sharp fall-off in credit card spending. The amount of money Irish consumers spent using their credit cards in April was € 180 million lower than in April of last year.

Anglo Irish Bank lost € 4 Billion in six Months

Another day, another scandal. This is now the norm here in the Irish banana republic.

Today's serving of outrage is the news that (the now nationalised) Anglo Irish Bank (right) has lost a total of € 4.1 billion in six months (the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009).
This is on average a loss of € 683 million each month, or € 22.75 million every single day! And it is also the by far biggest bank loss in the history of the Irish state.

The bank's results also show that deposits from businesses have dropped by almost € 9 billion after nationalisation.

Anglo Irish Bank's new chairman Donal O'Connor says that "lending has been imprudent, and the results are very disappointing".

I put it a bit more bluntly: The bank's behaviour was nothing but criminal. And thus those who were responsible for the blunder should be prosecuted and brought to Justice.

Donal O'Connor also indicates that "the total loan losses are likely to reach € 7.5 billion".

Anglo Irish Bank has now written off the sum of € 308 million in relation to loans to ten 'long-standing clients', who then used these funds to buy shares in the bank.
The ten very wealthy individuals who participated in this scam subsequently became known in public and in the media as the 'Golden Circle'.
A total amount of € 451 million was lent by Anglo Irish Bank to members of the 'Golden Circle' , but as it looks the bank may not get € 308 million of that money back.

Among the losses disclosed today were also € 31 million on loans to former directors of Anglo Irish Bank.

The government now plans to seek the EU's approval to put another € 4 billion of State money - which means in fact Irish taxpayers' money - into Anglo Irish Bank in the coming weeks.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan (left) has announced that he will recapitalise the rotten bank.
"Winding up Anglo Irish, the third-biggest bank in the country, is not an option," he stated, nailing his colours firmly to the mast of a sunken ship. "The priority is to stabilise the bank," Lenihan emphasised.

Well, I am no banker, but as an old sailor let me say this: One can well stabilise the wreck of a sunken vessel, in order to prevent it from drifting, slipping or from becoming a danger to other shipping. But one can never re-float and sail a ship after it was sailed onto rocks and crashed.

The Emerald Islander

Latest Poll shows Labour Party gaining Support

With just one week to go to the European and local elections, the latest national opinion poll indicates that Fianna Fáil is still on course for disastrous results on June 5th.

The TNS/MRBI poll, published in today's edition of The Irish Times, shows that the Labour Party is the only party with significant improvements since the last poll a fortnight ago.

If Fianna Fáil were hoping for a late surge in support as this election campaign enters its final week, there is no sign of it so far.
The poll shows the party's support at just 20%, down one point since the last poll two weeks ago. (see my entry of May 15th)

Fine Gael are down two points, to now 36% support. But they are still by far the biggest party, and 16 points ahead of their arch rivals.

As mentioned above, Labour are the only point gainers in this poll. They are up three points to 23%, which puts them nationally in second place, after Fine Gael and ahead of Fianna Fáil.

The Green Party, which is now not much more than the outdoors and gardening department of FF, stands unchanged at 3%. This indicates that their core support still exists, but that no-one else will touch them with a barge pole.

Sinn Féin have dropped one point and stand on 8%, while Independents 'and others' (which includes Libertas) are up one point to now 10%.

However, with separate questioning - focused only on the local elections - Independents 'and others' are getting 19%, almost twice their average national support.

This is no surprise, as the amount of independent candidates or smaller parties and groups (such as the Socialist Party, the Workers' Party, the Socialist Workers' Party and 'People before Profit') is very different from one constituency to the next.*
And it is of course in the nature of independent candidates that each one of them has a different personality and thus will appeal to the electorate in a different way.

Overall satisfaction with the Irish government is - surprisingly - up slightly, but by only two points to a still disastrous 12%. The vast majority of the Irish electorate - now 84% - remains dissatisfied with the government's shambolic performance.

Satisfaction with the Taoiseach is also up - by three points - but at 21% he still has the lowest satisfaction rating of all party leaders. (He is even beaten into last place by his coalition partner, as the Greens' leader John Gormley comes in on 25% support.)

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore retains the nation's highest satisfaction rating, with now 49%, which is two points lower than his amazing 51% a fortnight ago.

The Emerald Islander

* For example: The Socialist Party and the Workers' Party are both nominally parties with a nation-wide attitude and ambition. And they both have members in different parts of the country.
However, regarding actual strong support and thus any chances for electoral success, the Socialist Party is limited to the northern half of Dublin (city and county), while the last - and currently only - Irish constituency with elected representatives from the Workers' Party (which was founded as a break-away group from the old Sinn Féin) is Waterford City.

28 May 2009

Largest Irish Wind Farm planned in Co. Clare

Plans have been announced today for the construction of the country's largest community wind farm. It will be developed on Mount Callan in Co. Clare, in the West of Ireland.

The project represents an investment of € 200 million and will be capable to meet the energy needs of all of Co. Clare and half of Co. Limerick.

Thirty local farming families will have the biggest shareholding in the new company - West Clare Renewable Energy - which is developing the project.

They collectively own more than 3000 acres of mostly elevated land on Mount Callan, located between Ennis and Miltown Malbay. There they plan to construct 30 wind turbines with a production capacity of three megawatt.

300 new jobs are expected to be created during the two-and-a-half year construction phase.

Efforts to develop a wind farm in the Mount Callan area have been ongoing for over 15 years, but they had not been successful. Only the combined input of so many local families has made the project now feasible.

Landowner John Talty says that the community wind farm is designed to "create long-term sustainable employment, reverse depopulation in the area, and help struggling farmers secure an alternative form of income".
The project also meets the government's plans to invest in cleaner energy sources.

One can only welcome such a brilliant project with open arms, applaud the entrepreneurial and community spirit of the people in Co. Clare and wish them success and the best of luck.
Hopefully more Irish farmers in different areas - in particular on the west coast - will take note of West Clare Renewable Energy and organise similar projects for their communities.

Only three weeks ago the Spirit of Ireland group has presented their magnificent ideas how Ireland could become energy-independent and even an energy exporter within a few years. (see my entry of May 8th)
There is no shortage of wind and water here, and if we can use them to produce electricity, solve our own energy problems and then become truly wealthy by supplying electricity to continental Europe, let's get on with it and do it.

The Emerald Islander

President backs Abuse Prosecutions

President Mary McAleese (photo) believes that people should face prosecutions as a result of the Ryan Report (see my entry of May 21st) into the systematic torture and child abuse by members of religious orders of the Catholic Church.

The President was speaking in Boston, on the final leg of her official visit to the US state of Massachusetts. There she has been meeting Irish-American communities and promoted Ireland's industry and tourism.

As the presidential good-will tour coincided with the publication of the Ryan Report here, a considerable amount of publicity in US media on the fall-out from the report overshadowed the visit. (With some careful planning, scheduling and co-ordination it would have been possible to avoid that.)

In an interview with RTÉ News the President said today that the report showed "a catalogue of criminal offences", and that "people who committed these awful crimes against innocent children should face prosecution".
Even though prosecution might not bring closure, it would bring Justice, she added.

Mary McAleese is to be saluted on this clear statement and on her straight and honest approach. She stands high above the Irish government, which is now trying to wriggle itself out of the mess it created, while it still tries to protect the Catholic Church from taking full responsibility for her horrible crimes.

The Emerald Islander

27 May 2009

Intel Staff Meetings over Redundancies

Today the management of Intel (Ireland) Ltd. held meetings with staff members who have volunteered to take redundancy.
In February the US company, which is the world's leading manufacturer of computer chips, announced plans to cut "up to 300 jobs" at their Irish main production facility in Leixlip, County Kildare through a voluntary redundancy programme, which is part of a worldwide cost-cutting plan.

The company indicated that the jobs would go before June of this year, but a definite time-scale has not been announced. It is also not known how many of Intel's staff members have applied for voluntary redundancy.

Employees interested in availing of the programme have made applications to the management over the past few months, and today they found out who will stay and who will go.
One-to-one meetings between line managers and staff began early this morning and went on for most of the day.

Implementing their global cost-cutting plan, Intel has shed already thousands of jobs this year and manufacturing plants in China, Malaysia and the Philippines have been closed.

Intel employs currently more than 5000 people in Ireland and is one of the most important high-technology companies in the country.

The Emerald Islander

New Hygiene Guidelines for Irish Hospitals

Public hospitals and other health facilities in Ireland have one year to comply with a new set of mandatory hygiene standards that were published today. And to begin with, they have now six months to "produce an analysis of how they are currently complying or not complying with the standards".

The Health Information & Quality Authority (HIQA) will conduct both announced and unannounced inspections "to ensure that all hospitals meet the twelve new standards".

They cover areas such as hand hygiene, medical device infections, antibiotic resistance, physical environment and disease control.
In other words, they demand behaviour that most people would regard as common sense.

Jon Billings, the HIQA's 'Director of Healthcare Quality' (now there is some title to behold!) says that "most of the standards are straightforward to implement with changes in culture, behaviour, planning, management and leadership".
Or, as I mentioned already above, by using simple common sense.

The first facilities to be "targeted" for inspections are expected to be Ireland's acute hospitals. But the system will also apply to GP and dental surgeries as well as community care facilities.

The HIQA will then "publish the findings on how the inspected institutions are complying with the new rules".

Well, this is just what we need, isn't it? Another quango full of overpaid bureaucrats, producing big reports that no-one will read or act upon. All financed by you and me - the Irish taxpayers.
And at the same time wards are closed because there are not enough doctors and nurses!

The interesting aspect is that private hospitals are exempt from the HIQA inspections. Another proof for the unfair and unacceptable two-tier system in Ireland's healthcare.

According to the government, "it is expected that private facilities will come under the HIQA inspection system when planned legislation, arising from the Commission on Patient Safety & Quality Assurance (another one of Bertie Ahern's useless quangos) comes into force".

And when that will be is anyone's guess. Given the usually slow speed with which Dáil Éireann progresses in normal legislation, it might not even happen in my lifetime.

The Emerald Islander

Irish House Prices back at 2004 Levels

The latest index from the Irish Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) and permanent tsb bank reveals that house prices in Ireland have fallen by almost 2% last month.
This brings the prices for residential property back to levels not seen here since the summer of 2004.

On national average house prices have fallen by almost 5% in the first four months of this year.

According to this index, the average price paid for a house in April 2009 was € 248,640, compared with € 261,573 in December and € 311,078 at the peak of the property bubble in February 2007.

Prices for the (usually least expensive) houses in the 'first-time buyer category' are falling at the fastest rate and are down 7.9% already this year.

"This is the fastest rate of decline in national prices that we have seen to date since the index started in 1996," says Niall O'Grady of the permanent tsb bank, one of Ireland's major mortgage lenders.
"The particularly dramatic reduction in prices for first-time buyers reflects their reluctance to buy in a market that is still declining and where unsold properties are being reduced further."

Meanwhile several leading economists and independent analysts are predicting that property prices in Ireland will continue to fall "for at least another 12-18 months".

The Emerald Islander

Quality of East Coast Beaches "disappointing"

The quality of Ireland's east coast bathing water has deteriorated significantly last year, with a doubling of the number of beaches failing to provide 'minimum mandatory standards'.

A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that even though beaches on Ireland's west coast performed well, the east coast experienced major difficulties, particularly around Dublin.

While the EPA points out that Ireland's bathing waters "remain of a high quality", the sad fact is that more than 20% of them failed to pass two EU quality tests.

Nine bathing areas - out of a total of 131 tested - were found to have failed even the most basic 'minimum mandatory standards'.

Four of the bathing areas were identified in just one local authority area - Fingal County (which is part of the Greater Dublin area).
They are the beaches of Balbriggan, Loughshinny, Malahide and Portrane.

Of the 14 beaches within the Dublin local authority areas, only three were found to have passed both EU mandatory values and the stricter analysis known as 'EU guide values'.

"Poor weather conditions during last summer are partly responsible", explains Dr. Michael Lehane of the EPA. But he describes the test results as "disappointing", and adds that "unless all necessary actions are undertaken", the problems will reoccur.

As things are right now - with our economy in recession, the whole country in turmoil, our incompetent government in chaos, and money being short everywhere - it is rather unlikely that much attention will be paid to the specific conditions of our beaches. Which means that probably even more of them will fail the EU tests next year.

While the east coast, and in particular the Dublin Bay area, are getting the black mark, Ireland's west coast appears to be in good condition.
All of Co. Donegal's 19 official beach areas, as well as the 15 beaches each in Counties Mayo and Kerry, passed both EU tests.

So, if it is a beach holiday you have in mind for this summer, forget the east coast and go bathing in the West.

The Emerald Islander

26 May 2009

Major DUP Reshuffle in the North

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the North revealed significant changes to it's present parliamentary representation. This will lead to a major reshuffle of some of the most senior Unionist positions in the Northern Assembly and could provide promotion chances for some of the party's younger generation.

DUP leader Peter Robinson (above), who is the First Minister of the Northern Administration, has announced that six of his party's Westminster MPs will give up their positions in Ulster and concentrate full-time on their work in the British House of Commons.

The Northern Environment Minister Sammy Wilson (left) and his party colleague Gregory Campbell (right), who is Minister for Culture, Arts & Leisure in the power-sharing administration of the Six Counties, will relinquish their current posts and concentrate in future on Westminster politics.

Just two of the DUP MPs - Mr. Robinson himself and either Nigel Dodds or Jeffrey Donaldson - will stay in ministerial positions in the power-sharing executive.

Iris Robinson (who is Peter Robinson's wife), David Simpson and Willie McCrea, who all chair committees in the Northern Assembly, will also step down from their positions. This large DUP reshuffle will put the stability of the power-sharing executive to the test.

The changes are made partly in anticipation of a change in British law, which still allows dual mandates. It is expected that a ban of such arrangements will be introduced in the UK in the near future, and Conservative Party leader David Cameron (left) has already stated that he would do exactly that if he wins the next general election (which could take place within the next twelve months). Cameron also said he would favour preventing Sinn Féin MPs from claiming their expenses and allowances at Westminster, unless they take their seats in parliament (which they currently don't, because they refuse to swear the 'Oath of Allegiance' to the Queen, which is demanded from every MP).

Dual mandates for political representatives, which were fairly common in the past, have been already abolished in Ireland and most other EU countries.

At present 16 of the North's Westminster MPs are also members of the Stormont Assembly.

The current media storm over British MPs' expenses claims is causing a massive controversy at Westminster, and in the wake of this frenzy, questions are also being asked about the validity of politicians holding two - and sometimes even three - official jobs and mandates at the same time.

There are currently only two exceptions to the North's double mandate 'rule': the sole Ulster Unionist MP Sylvia Hermon, and the SDLP's Eddie McGrady.
Five Sinn Féin MPs and two SDLP representatives at Westminster are also members of the Northern Assembly.

It is quite possible that the DUP's reshuffle will trigger similar moves in other parties, and this can only be good for the democratic process and politics as a whole.
People who hold public office for too long, or hold too many positions at the same time, tend to make the process of government slow and inefficient. Some new blood ever so often is necessary, for political bodies quite in the same way as it is for families and dynasties.

The Emerald Islander

25 May 2009

New Motorway in Co. Cork

A new stretch of modern motorway (photo) between Fermoy and Mitchelstown in the north-east of Co. Cork opened to traffic for the first time this afternoon.

The new motorway part, whose building cost € 174 million, was completed nine months ahead of schedule.

This is good news for motorists and means that all but a 40-km-long segment of the overland road from Dublin to Cork is now at motorway or dual carriageway standard.

The final remaining section, which is currently under construction, will link the Portlaoise bypass with the M 8 motorway at Cullahill in Co. Laois and is expected to be completed in the second half of 2010.

24 May 2009

Volvo Ocean Race reaches Galway

Regular readers know that I am an old sailor and retired naval officer. And some also know that I am still involved with the sailing community, including STI (Sail Training International). So anything that involves ships, boats and the sea does naturally interest me. However, I am not a great friend and supporter of completely commercialised events that are predominantly large advertisement boards for numerous big companies, with the sailing vessels and their crews degraded to mere 'supporting acts' in the corporate show of vanity.

From today on the spotlight will be on Galway, the largest city in the West of Ireland, which is hosting a two-week-long maritime festival to celebrate their participation in the 2008/2009 international round-the-globe Volvo Ocean Race.

In the early hours of this morning the participating boats entered the port of Galway, finishing the 7th leg (of ten) in this demanding race. They had left the US port of Boston at 1300 h local time (1700 h GMT/1800 h BST) on May 16th for their 2550 nm course to Galway, via St. John's (Newfoundland).
The first boat to arrive in Galway was the Ericsson 4 at 0054 h GMT (0154 h BST), winning leg 7 of the race in a time of 7 days, 10 hours, 33 minutes and 51 seconds. Thus Ericsson 4 gained 8 more points, extending her position as the overall race leader with now 94.0 points on the board.

The Irish-Chinese boat Green Dragon - which obviously attracts the greatest interest and support among the maritime community in Ireland - entered Galway at 0315 h GMT (0415 h BST), finishing leg 7 in third position (behind the Puma, which was the runner-up in the Boston to Galway race).
Overall the Green Dragon is now in 5th position (out of 8) on the board, with a total of 53.0 points.

The international round-the-globe Ocean Race, which is one of the most challenging competitions of its kind, began in 1973 (then under the name of a different sponsor) and was inspired by the achievements of two great British sailors, Sir Francis Chichester and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

The 2008/2009 race started last October in the Spanish port of Alicante, with the first leg going all the way across the South Atlantic, down to Cape Town (above) in South Africa.
From there the boats set course for Cochin in India (leg 2), and after some rest they continued east-southeast to Singapore (leg 3). Leaving the 'Pearl of the East' on January 18th, the fleet sailed north on leg 4, to Qingdao (formerly the German colony Tsingtao) in China. From there they set out on leg 5, the longest and toughest part of the competition, with a 12,300 nm course across the Southern Pacific and around Cape Horn (which is the most difficult thing to do for any sailor).
Having left Qingdao on February 14th, only five of the boats - including the Green Dragon - made it through leg 5 and arrived at Rio de Janeiro in late March. It took Ericsson 3 - the winner of this leg - 40 days, 23 hours and 26 minutes of sailing to reach Rio, and the last of the competitors came into port three days later.
After some welcome rest days in sunny Rio de Janeiro, the fleet set sails again on April 11th, embarking on leg 6 of the race to Boston, Massachusetts (below), which they reached on April 26th (and left again for Galway on May 16th).

With seven of the ten legs finished, the overall race positions of the boats are as follows:
  1. Ericsson 4 (94.0 points)
  2. Telefonica Blue (81.0 points)
  3. Puma Ocean Racing (80.0 points)
  4. Ericsson 3 (62.5 points)
  5. Green Dragon (53.0 points)
  6. Telefonica Black (39.0 points)
  7. Delta Lloyd (31.0 points)
  8. Team Russia (10.5 points)
On June 6th leg 8 of the race will be started in Galway, sending the boats on a 1250 nm course to the Swedish port of Gotenburg-Marstrand. From there they will go on a short course (leg 9) to Stockholm, and the final leg will bring them from the Swedish capital to St. Petersburg in Russia, where this year's race ends after more than 37,000 nm.

Until June 6th the city of Galway, despite her still unsolved problems with the local drinking water (see my entries of September 23rd, 24th, 27th & 30th, 2008), is hosting a huge festival, which includes all kinds of the arts, music and performances.
Galway has a long reputation for her artists and cultural diversity, as well a being a 'fun city'. So I presume they will make a good effort to please the many visitors that are expected over the two weeks.
But even more interesting for the City Council and Galway's business people are the € 43 million of extra income for the local economy the two-week-long festival is expected to create.
And, given the fact that we have local government elections on June 5th, the sitting members of Galway City Council should also benefit from the additional 'feel-good factor'.

The Emerald Islander

23 May 2009

Well done, Leinster!

The Leinster 'Blues' have kept the coveted European Rugby Cup - also known (for its sponsors) as the Heineken Cup - in Ireland by beating the English club Leicester 'Tigers' at the Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh 19-16.
(People who believe in numerology might well see a special significance in this result, as the scores of both teams written in succession give us 1916, the year of the Easter Rising in Dublin, which is the capital of Leinster as well as the capital of Ireland.)

Leinster had reached the final of this prestigious annual European competition for the first time after they beat - for many rather surprisingly - their permanent national rivals Munster (which are usually seen as the stronger team and won the European Rugby Cup in 2006 and last year) in the semi-final at Croke Park in Dublin 25-6.

I am not a follower of Rugby, and certainly no expert on this sport. So, for an opinion I have to rely on the knowledge of a friend who played Union Rugby for many years. From what he tells me, Leinster "had generally the better of the game at Murrayfield, but were forced to stage a strong fightback after falling 16-9 behind early in the second half". Obviously they fought back successfully, scored 10 more points (while Leicester scored none) and won the match 19-16.

From an outside position as a complete Rugby layman - and even though I live in Munster - I like nevertheless to take this opportunity to say "Well done, Leinster!" and wish them good luck for the future.

Leinster's success is the fourth time an Irish team has won this Cup. The first to bring home the silver trophy were Ulster in 1999, followed by Munster in 2006 and 2008.
And if the recent form of Irish Rugby is anything to go by, we might well see more of the same in years to come.

The Emerald Islander

Shopping as it should be

Being a single man, living with a cat as my only companion, I do all the cooking and household chores that many other men have done for them by a woman. But I am not complaining. In fact, I like cooking and see it as one of the creative arts.

I also like to go shopping for groceries, which has of course to come before I can start cooking. And unlike many women I see in the supermarkets each week, filling their trolleys thoughtless and senseless with piles of expensive and unhealthy items of processed food, I am a discerning and selective shopper. I am also very price-conscious, a trait I have inherited from my mother.

So when I go shopping, I always look out for bargains or special offers, and in general I seek good value for my money. This does not mean that I always buy the cheapest items. Good value for money means getting quality for a fair price. As Ireland is quite an expensive country, with most things costing about twice as much as they cost in most other EU countries, it is worth to shop around.

Over the years I have developed personal shopping habits, buying a range of particular items in various shops, depending on quality and price. For my normal weekly grocery shopping I usually frequent three different local supermarkets (two Irish-owned and one foreign) and one small Polish shop that has opened here a few months ago and stocks certain continental delicacies one would not find in Irish shops or supermarkets.

One of the Irish supermarkets I use regularly is SuperValu, a chain of franchised stores under the umbrella of the Cork-based Musgrave Group. It is located in a small shopping centre, only a short walk from my house, and offers a wide range of quality food at fair prices.
The same also applies to the other two supermarkets I frequent, so I always decide carefully what I buy in one or in the others.

What makes SuperValu stand out from their competitors in recent weeks and months is their pro-active response to our current recession.

For the past nine months the Irish economy has not only seen a massive downturn in the wake of the global financial crisis, it has actually crashed and created widespread economic stagnation and the highest rate of unemployment this country has seen for decades.
Our current government, which is chiefly responsible for the terrible mess we are in, has no idea how to lead us out of it again. Facing a huge budget deficit - due to a drastic fall in tax revenue - Finance Minister Brian Lenihan just raises taxes all over the place and imposes extra levies on all those who still have a job. This gives him some extra money on the short-term, but it means of course that most people in Ireland have now less money in their pockets.
Subsequently everyone is tightening the proverbial belt and tries to spend less. And this has of course a direct and significant impact on all Irish shops and businesses.

People still need to eat, to wash their clothes and to clean their houses, but supermarkets and shops feel already the pinch of the nation's reduced spending power.
Some grocery shops just carry on as usual, hoping that people might still buy their products at the normal prices and make their personal spending cuts elsewhere. But the major supermarket chains are beginning to wake up and present their customers with ever more bargains and special offers.

This is a very welcome development and can only be further encouraged.

And though all supermarkets are making efforts now to retain their regular customers and gain new ones as well, the one that stands out from the rest and truly deserves a special mention is SuperValu.

Like most supermarkets, they always have - and had for years - special offers and promotions, usually on a weekly basis. But now SuperValu is going even a step further and offers special deals I have not seen anywhere else.
They actually give away certain food items for free, usually in very lucrative combination offers that are particularly suitable for families.

In recent weeks they offered nice cuts of Irish round roast (beef) at half of the normal price, and for every piece of meat one bought, one got either a small bag of potatoes, a bag of carrots, or a net of onions thrown in free of charge.

This is - in my humble opinion - the right attitude towards loyal customers and a proper and sensible reaction to the current recession and the general shortage of money in people's pockets. Or, to say it with SuperValu's own motto: Shopping as it should be.

When I went there yesterday and saw the week's specials, my heart actually leapt in joy. There were large bags of Irish apples and punnets with clementines, strawberries and blueberries on offer, and all of them for just € 1 each! There were also some other items available for the great price of € 1, including a pound of butter, a large bag of potato crisps (which I don't eat, although they are very popular in Ireland) and a litre block of vanilla ice cream.

I bought plenty of the fruit and went home with a heavy bag, but had actually spent less money than I would normally spend on a Friday. And I think that such commendable action by an Irish retailer deserves to be mentioned to the readers of this weblog.

I also obtained a brochure with special offers for next week, and they are again very attractive, but too many to mention them all here. However, let me tell you that they include sirloin steaks at half of the normal price, with a bag of chips thrown in free of charge for every purchase. So, if you want to treat yourself to a traditional Irish dinner of steak & chips, next week (May 25th - 30th) is the time to go shopping at SuperValu.

The Emerald Islander

P.S. To avoid any misunderstandings, I should mention here that I received no payment or compensation in kind for the article above. I wrote the piece because I think that in hard times, when money is tight and everyone is trying to make ends meet, one should know who cares for the needs of the nation. And when I see good deeds done, I like to share them with my readers, in the same way as I will always expose those who are trying to exploit or overcharge us.

Jacob's end Production in Ireland

Jacob's, Ireland's famous manufacturers of biscuits, crackers and wafers (and one of the oldest and best-known brand names on this island), have baked the last biscuits at their factory in Tallaght, County Dublin yesterday afternoon.

As Tallaght was the company's last manufacturing facility in the Republic of Ireland, this means the end of production of our favourite biscuits in our own country.

The closure of the plant, which had started production in the 1970s, had been already announced in September 2008, and a gradual wind-down process of production took place since then. However, the closure means that another 220 jobs are lost in Dublin, and in the harsh recession we are in, that hurts.
Jacob's sales, marketing and administration departments, which together still employ about 100 people, will remain in Tallaght, at least for the time being.

The 15 popular brand lines of the company (most of which are market leaders) will from now on be manufactured in several plants in Britain and on the European continent, where - according the company's chairman Michael Carey - "the production is more efficient and less costly".

In modern business language this is called 'outsourcing'.

The Jacob's plant at Belgard Road in Tallaght had been working with only 16% of its full capacity for years, and in times of recession this is a situation few companies would or could maintain.

Even though Jacob's have been in Dublin for more than a century, the company was not founded in the capital. Like so many good and important things in Ireland, Jacob's biscuits came originally from the Emerald Isle's oldest city - Waterford.

In 1881 two brothers - William and Richard Jacob - opened a small biscuit bakery here in Bridge Street, close to the river Suir (and leading onto the city's only bridge).

They did very well, and soon their products became popular all over Ireland.
As the business began to grow and expand,
W & R Jacob moved to larger premises on Dublin's Bishop Street (left), a site now occupied by the National Archive of Ireland. The brothers also had another Dublin factory in Peter's Row and later opened an English branch in Liverpool as well.

In 1916 the Bishop Street factory was one of several prominent Dublin buildings occupied by members of the Irish Citizens Army during the Easter Rising.

In the 1920s the company's two branches separated, with the Dublin branch retaining the W & R Jacob name, while the Liverpool branch was renamed Jacob's Bakery Ltd.
In the 1970s W & R Jacob merged with Boland's Biscuits to form Irish Biscuits Ltd. and moved to Tallaght, into the then new manufacturing plant that has produced its last biscuits yesterday.

Since 1990, when the company was bought by the French food giant Groupe Danone, Jacob's is strictly speaking no longer an Irish company. After several changes, the English branch is now part of the multi-national United Biscuits, while the Dublin branch was acquired a few years ago by the Fruitfield Food Group, which then changed its name to Jacob Fruitfield Food Group.

Jacob's biscuits are very popular here, and an almost essential part of every Irish childhood and growing-up process. And even as an adult I still like them very much. In fact, while I am writing this, I have two of Jacob's famous fig rolls sitting beside my mug of tea.

I presume that we will see Jacob's products on the shelves of our shops and supermarkets in the future, as we have seen them for all our lives. But I wonder if we will from now on have the same sentimental feelings that we always had when buying them.
Although we knew perfectly well that they were made in Dublin and Tallaght, for us they were somehow still 'our own' Waterford biscuits from Bridge Street.
Now they are not even made in Ireland any longer, and it is sad to see a great manufacturing tradition end after 128 years.

The Emerald Islander

22 May 2009

It all began with Eamon de Valera

As the day sets and the weekend approaches, Ireland is still in deep shock over the revelations of the report on long-time organised child abuse in Catholic institutions. This 3000-page document is the result of more than ten years of investigation, was compiled by a State Commission chaired by Judge Seán Ryan and published in Dublin on Wednesday. (for details see yesterday's entry below)

Many people are very angry, others say they "just feel numb" as they never expected that such things could happen, and certainly not in 'Holy Ireland', where priests and religious were put on pedestals for centuries and worshipped almost as much as God and Jesus Christ.

Perhaps this over-reverend, sycophantic and almost slavish attitude towards people in cassocks and habits was one of the contributing factors to the terrible crimes Irish priests and religious committed against Irish children for more than five decades. Anyone who is treated by others like a demi-god may after a while begin to believe that he actually is a demi-god and behave accordingly. (And there are many examples for that in history.)

Or, as the famous Lord Acton wrote in the 19th century: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The first 'industrial schools' for "neglected, orphaned and abandoned children" in Ireland were established by the British colonial administration in the second half of the 19th century under the Industrial Schools Act of 1868. (A similar Act of Parliament was passed already for England in 1857.) The Act was intended to "solve problems of juvenile delinquency, by removing poor and neglected children from their home environment to a boarding school". It allowed magistrates to send "disorderly children" to a residential 'industrial school'.
A further Act of 1876 led to the establishment of non-residential day schools of a similar kind.

It is however worth to point out that the number of children sent to these special schools was not very large in the early years of their existence. Then the size and purpose of Ireland's 'industrial schools' was significantly increased, at the same time that Fianna Fáil - which had until 1927 refused to sit in the Dáil (because they were required to swear an oath of allegiance) or take part in normal parliamentary business - gained power in Ireland for the first time in 1932.

The party's founder and first leader Eamon de Valera (photo) was not only a very pious and old-fashioned Catholic (in the Spanish tradition of his Cuban father) who contemplated at least for some time to become a priest himself, he was also a very strict and authoritarian man who demanded blind and uncritical loyalty from all his followers. (Although the present party leader - Taoiseach Brian Cowen - is the seventh man in charge of Fianna Fáil, the party's demand for blind loyalty, regardless of facts and common sense, is still the same as under de Valera.)

The year that saw Fianna Fáil taking control of the 'Irish Free State' was a time of great upheaval in Spain, where the conflict between different social and political groups would eventually lead to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
De Valera had Spanish as well as Irish roots, and during the first years of the (second) Spanish Republic, which had been established in April 1931, he and many other traditional Catholics all over Europe were very upset by the reports they received from Spain.
Representatives and supporters of the left-wing republican movement turned their anger not only against aristocrats and land owners, but also against Catholic priests and religious, who were seen by many (and with good reason) as backbones of the conservative and reactionary system that had ruled Spain for centuries and ruined her economy. Some Catholic clerics were killed by mobs, others were put on trial in courts and sentenced to death or imprisonment. A number of churches and monasteries were closed or confiscated, and in general life was hard and dangerous for anyone openly supporting the Catholic Church in Spain at that time.

During the 1930s Ireland was still a very young State without a solid base, strong economy or developed infrastructure. And the scars of the Irish Civil War, which ended in 1923, were only too visible everywhere. Old comrades had stood on opposite sides in this short, stupid and totally unnecessary conflict which literally pitched brother against brother and divided families for ever. There was also still a very large and poverty-stricken underclass in Ireland at the time, and who could say if these people might not behave in similar fashion as the poor working classes in Spain, if they got a chance to revolt against the authorities of State and Church.

Parallel to the events in Spain, Benito Mussolini was celebrating ten years of Fascist rule in Italy, and in Germany Adolf Hitler had increased his support so much that it was only a question of time when he would be in power, too. (He got there on January 30th, 1933.)

Unfortunately there has never been any deeper historical research into the personal and political motives of Eamon de Valera and his closest advisers in these early years. I hope that someone will undertake this work and provide us with more insights at some stage.
But for the time being one can only speculate about de Valera's thoughts and feelings during the first few years he was back in charge of the country. (He had been already the head of state and head of government of the unilaterally declared Irish Republic from 1919 to 1922, but resigned over the Anglo-Irish Treaty and stormed out of the Dáil, followed by his supporters. This split led to the Irish Civil War, but even after hostilities had ceased, de Valera and his new political party Fianna Fáil - founded in 1926 - remained refuseniks until 1927, when they decided to join the democratic system of the State.)

It is quite possible and more than likely that between Eamon de Valera and the conservative Irish bishops a strategy was agreed to prevent any left-wing and anti-Catholic revolution in this country.
Every Catholic theologian is familiar with the famous words of Ignatius de Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), who said: "Give me a boy of seven, and I will give you the man."
And even though the Jesuits were never involved in the running of the 'industrial schools', their extensive use under the Fianna Fáil government of Eamon de Valera was most likely inspired by Jesuit thinking and teaching.

The idea of having special schools for the poor (and not just for 'juvenile deliquents'), run and controlled by the Church, would have been very appealing to an authoritarian and conservative Catholic like de Valera. In these schools "the lesser skilled children from the lower classes" could learn a trade that would give them a chance of employment, and they would also receive strict religious instructions and conservative indoctrination to keep them "on the right side of the track".

The same kind of thinking is also evident in the new Irish Constitution, which Eamon de Valera introduced in 1937, and in the new structure of Seanad Éireann, which was re-organised by him according to different social groups in society, and thus along the lines of Catholic social theory of the time. (see my entry of March 23rd)

Neither Eamon de Valera, nor his close friend and spiritual adviser John Charles McQuaid, CSSp (who was later Archbishop of Dublin from 1940 to 1972), were particularly mercantile-minded. So it is unlikely that they saw the huge potential for making massive profits with the 'industrial schools'.
This only dawned on the religious orders after running them for a while on the new enlarged scale, and they then tried to expand the size of their institutions even further and thus maximise their profits as well.

Whatever one might think of Eamon de Valera, he was not a child molester and would certainly never have imagined that the institutions he wanted to use to stabilise the social structure and system of the State would become places of organised child abuse by priests and religious.

But - like anyone else who has held political office in Ireland between the 1930s and the 1980s - Eamon de Valera carries a share of responsibility for the horrible crimes now revealed and documented. Not so much for increasing the use of the 'industrial schools', but more for the ignorance and disinterest he and his ministers displayed when they received complaints from the abuse victims, their parents and relatives, or even from some concerned civil servants of their own administration.
They simply did not care what happened to "brats from the lower classes". They could not even be bothered to have a good look at the institutions, to establish what conditions they - and their inmates - were in.

In the same era that saw Ireland's 'industrial schools' enlarged, the ordinary and 'law-abiding' people of Germany did and said nothing when they saw their Jewish neighbours rounded up by Police and SS. Jews were marched to the local railway station, put on a train and disappeared, never to be heard of again.
Research has established that most Germans did not know in detail what was actually done to them. But they all knew that their former neighbours were not going away on holidays, and not moving house in the normal way (as they were only allowed hand luggage and all their furniture and major possessions were left behind). Some may have guessed, others imagined the truth, as there was of course a massive Nazi propaganda campaign against Jews for many years. But even those who did not think much about Jews knew that they were forced to go, and that they would not come back. This did not bother them in any way, but it made them co-responsible for crimes against humanity.

The same attitude existed in Ireland, where everyone knew at least some of the sinister Catholic institutions, and knew that there was 'something wrong' with them. But no-one cared, bothered to have a closer look, or asked questions.
Which means that as a nation we are collectively guilty as well. People over the age of forty who lived in Ireland during those decades should ask themselves how much they knew, and what they might have been able to do, if they had been more courageous. All those who were in any kind of authority in Ireland participated and collaborated with the system of collective cruelty and neglect. They must now bear their share of responsibility for the horrible crimes Catholic perverts committed against three generations of our children.

Had Fianna Fáil not joined the democratic system in 1927 and not won the general elections of 1932, would we have had such a large network of 'industrial schools' in Ireland, with so many thousands of children in them for half a century? Probably - or most likely - not.

And without the bleak institutions, we might not have had the widespread subculture of violence, sadism and child abuse. But then again, there was more than enough violence against children in normal day schools as well, and the brothers and sisters abused children also in orphanages, homes for the handicapped and all kinds of schools.

In my opinion the roots of the endemic physical and sexual abuse of children grew within the Catholic Church. The unnatural way of life that is forced upon priests and religious pushes many of them over the edge of normal behaviour.
Especially the demand of celibacy (for secular priests) and chastidy (for all religious) is a major problem and causes all kinds of frictions and conflicts of interest. As sexuality is one of the most natural things for any living creature, it makes neither sense to ban people from it, nor does it actually work. (For example, many Catholic priests in Brazil, the Philippines and other parts of the co-called 'Third World' have unofficial wives and children. This is no secret, and they live openly in their parishes as happy family men. The Vatican knows it as well and does officially not approve of it. But since the Church has increasing difficulties finding enough celebate priests, the Catholic hierarchy is closing their eyes on this matter, pretending not to know. It is the same attitude that made them ignore the crimes against Irish children for decades.)

The demand of celebacy has also led to an over-proportional amount of homosexual men being attracted into the Catholic priesthood. And as soon as they find out that their sexual orientation is shared by other priests or brothers, Nature does the rest. There are widespread homosexual networks within the Catholic priesthood, and there were even a number of seminaries in Ireland where the percentage of practising homosexuals - students as well as teachers - was between 80% and 90%. Some were quite discreet, while others made no secret of it and could be seen walking around Irish towns holding hands, or sitting in pubs, drinking and kissing.

Over the past ten years much of this 'camp' behaviour has disappeared from the 'public radar' and gone back underground, where it has existed for centuries.
And although Pope Benedict XVI has meanwhile issued a brave decree, stating that he will no longer tolerate practising homosexuals in the priesthood, I have not heard of any resignations or sackings of priests. At least all of the homosexual Irish clerics I happen to know personally are still here, and still Catholic priests.

If the Catholic Church wants to survive as a world-wide institution, the rule of celebacy will have to go sooner or later. And as it is not one of the divine (or Biblical) laws, but a man-made rule introduced only in the 12th century, it should not cause any theological problem to remove it again. All it needs is the right Pope, and it will disappear over night.

As long as the Catholic Church demands an unnatural lifestyle from her priests and religious, there will be cases of sexual misbehaviour, paedophilia and child abuse among the clergy. And there have been known cases in almost every country in the world where there are Catholics.

What makes the Irish situation so different - and in fact unique - is the dimension. There is no other country - large or small - that has seen such an organised and systematic reign of terror with cruelty and child abuse, perpetrated by Catholic priests and religious, over more than half a century.

The reason is that since the 1930s Ireland's 'industrial schools' provided a unique environment for sadism, exploitation and child abuse on a colossal scale, which did not exist elsewhere. The bleak and deliberately unfriendly conditions of the institutions created plenty of tensions and distress, among the staff as well as among the children sent there.
Who on Earth would be happy living and working in hell holes with no culture and no decency?

Studies into the structure of the US Army have established that soldiers and officers posted for lengthy periods to bleak, inhospitable or boring stations often develop behavioural symptoms they did not show while serving in other commands. These symptoms include the development of strange hobbies, serious alcoholism, increased brutality, sadistic behaviour (towards animals as well as people) and sexual perversions.

It can be concluded that the same conditions applied to Catholic religious did produce the same behavioural symptoms in them as they have done in US military personnel.
So even though sexual misbehaviour is not unusual within the Catholic clergy world-wide, what happened in Ireland was a direct result of the unique environment of 'industrial schools' and other bleak institutions, enlarged to truly industrial dimensions by Eamon de Valera in order to subdue potential revolutionaries from the 'lower classes'.

Over the coming decades historians and psychologists will certainly look more closely at all the available documents, facts and details of this period. They will surely provide more answers than I can give here to the questions that are on almost everyone's mind in Ireland today: Why did this happen? And how could it happen for so long and on such a massive scale?

The Emerald Islander