In a surprise development Democratic Unionist Minister Arlene Foster has suggested that her party may actually support Sinn Fein’s call for a vote on a United Ireland – the ‘border poll’.
Sinn Fein have recently begun a campaign to have a border poll held in Northern Ireland to decide if a majority still want to stay within the United Kingdom. The Republican party have been boosted by recent census statistics that have revealed a big reduction in the overall size of the majority of Protestants in Ulster. The party has repeatedly said that it wants a referendum held in advance of the 1916 Easter Rising centenary.
The DUP Economy Minister has stated that she held talks with First Minister Peter Robinson about calling the bluff of Sinn Fein and that any such referendum would produce an overwhelming mandate for remaining within the UK. She claims that Sinn Fein are engaged in ‘fantasy politics’.
This is certainly a very high stakes game. If a referendum were to be held it would doubtless be mirrored by an increase in violence, intimidation and tension within Ulster and would likely empower the more radical extremes of both Protestant and Catholic traditions.
by Michael Green
The infamous Irish bushranger Ned Kelly has been buried in an unmarked Australian grave some 132 years after his death. Despite being hanged in 1880 it was not until 2011 when DNA evidence from one of his living relatives was matched against bones and remains found in a derelict Melbourne Jail that any funeral could take place.
For a time there was a legal wrangle over the ownership of the remains but in the end his descendants won the right to give him the Catholic burial he is said to have wanted. A crowd of over 500 people turned up to witness the final journey for the Australian legend, despite pleas for privacy from the Kelly family.
Opinion on the legacy of Ned Kelly has always been divided. His crimes in the 1800′s include various armed robberies and murders. He was eventually hanged after his gang was convicted of killing three police officers who were pursuing the renegades. While police authorities have always maintained that Ned Kelly was merely a criminal it is without question that he was also a symbol of rebellion by the poorer particularly Irish immigrants against the Anglo-Australian authorities who ruled in nineteenth century Australia.
The final showdown took place at Glenrowan on 28th June 1880. Kelly wore his home-made metal armour (an image that has become synonymous with him) but was captured and put on trial. He had earlier written an 8000 word letter explaining how circumstances had forced him into a life of crime by situations over which he had no control. The letter was later used against him in court. Ned Kelly was hanged in November 1880. His last words were ‘Such is life’.
Edited by Michael Green
Irish Government Finally Gets Tough on Public Service Pay
The ‘Croke Park Agreement’ is a deal between Public Service Unions and the Irish Government. It broadly states that there the Government will not implement any further cuts in pay for Public Servants in exchange for an increase in productivity and greater flexibility in respect of work practices.
The rates of pay and conditions enjoyed by Irish public servants have been the subject of severe criticism in Ireland in the last few years, especially given the appalling state of the public finances.
A successor to the Cork Park Agreement is being negotiated between the Government and Union officials with both sides taking pot-shots at each other using the media as their weapon. The latest example of such public negotiating was by the Irish Taoiseach (leader, Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. His Fine Gael Party has been criticized for allowing the continuation of the Croke Park Agreement despite the fact that the country is effectively bankrupt. Fine Gael are to a certain extent hamstrung by the fact that they are in coalition with the Labour Party who are adamantly opposed to their core membership enduring any further pay cuts.
Enda Kenny has made it clear that if no agreement is forthcoming then the Irish Government will introduce legislation to enable it to reduce wages and automatic annual increments (pay rises), and to introduce a compulsory redundancy program.
Such a unilateral action would cause difficulties for the Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore who is already reeling from the criticism his Party has endured after the introduction of the annual Property Tax. He will be hoping that his Trade Union colleagues can strike a deal with his Government that will prevent such a necessity.
Both Fine Gael and Labour have suffered badly in recent Irish opinion polls and it is vital that they are seen to strike a deal that is good for the country.
Edited by Michael Green
The ‘Good Friday Agreement’ that saw an end to the armed conflict in Northern Ireland has a number of provisions including the possibility of a vote on the removal of the border with the Republic and thus a United Ireland. It has always been the express political aim of Sinn Fein to achieve a United Ireland and the party has clearly taken heart from recent census results of the population in the six Counties.
The census revealed that the once significant gap between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority has diminished significantly. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency published the results of the 2011 census showing that 45% of the population are now Catholic while 48% are Protestant. This compares to the 2001 census when the ratio was 53% Protestant to 44% Catholic – a very significant closing of the gap.
When asked to identify themselves as British, Northern Irish or Irish 48% identified as British with 29% identifying as Northern Irish and 28% as Irish. Respondents were allowed to choose a number of identities in the census. 40% identified as ‘British only’, 25% as ‘Irish only’ with 21% ‘Northern Irish only’.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has ramped up the pressure by calling for a referendum during the lifetime of the current Northern Assembly (parliament). In an attempt to sway moderates he has also suggested that there would be economic benefits on both sides of the border should a United Ireland come into effect after a ‘border poll’. Of course any such moves are going to be fiercely resisted by Ulster Unionists who claim Ulster as their own.
Edited by Michael Green
A new tax on the private use of tap water is to be introduced in Ireland in 2014. This is despite the fact that most Irish homes will not have an actual water meter installed until 2016 at the earliest. A flat-rate fee will be introduced initially and will be based on the size of a property as well as the number of occupants.
Irish businesses already pay for their water usage but private homes do not, the funding for which comes from general taxation revenue. The new plans to install a water meter in every house in the country have, like the property tax, been greeted with dismay by a population that is already groaning under the weight of a huge and increasing tax burden. It is expected that average annual usage per home would cost approximately 400 euro (approx US$530), with heavier users paying more.
It is broadly accepted that there is a case for charging for water usage. Estimates put the wastage of usable water at over 50% from the country’s creaking and in many cases Victorian water pipes network. Owners of rural houses usually have to sink their own well or else join a water scheme while urban houses do not have any such expense so there is a real urban/rural divide on the issue.
On the other hand Taxpayers can reasonably argue that they already pay for water in their income and sales taxes and are entitled to ask just why they are being told to pay again.
Edited by Michael Green
In the wake of the unexpected blossoming of the Irish whale-watching business the Irish tourist industry is today celebrating another notable boost.
In a surprising boost for Irish tourism the Chinese ‘Oriental Morning Post’ newspaper has declared that Ireland is the world’s best travel destination. A poll conducted by the newspaper was announced at the ‘World Travel Awards’ in Shanghai. The vote of confidence for the Irish tourist experience follows on from the 2012 ‘most charming destination’ award from the Beijing ‘Life Style’ magazine.
As many as two million Chinese tourists visit Europe every year but clearly Irish Tourist businesses want to attract more than the 10,000 Chinese visitors that arrived in 2011. Perhaps the fact that Ireland is located at the very edge of the continent has played some part in the relatively few Chinese visitors over the years. It is hoped that a new visa waiver scheme that has been introduced for Chinese visitors will greatly boost the numbers that visit the shores of the Emerald Isle.
Late last year the Chinese celebrity couple Zhao Ruo Hong and Zhao Yan from Shanghai made the headlines in their native land when they visited Ireland on their honeymoon. Zhao Ruo Hong is vice-president of China’s first wedding website. Zhao Yan is a famous detective writer. Their tour of the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, The Book of Kells and then the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry read like a travel brochure for Irish tourist chiefs who were clearly delighted to welcome such a high-profile celebrity endorsement.
By Michael Green
Perhaps it is a sign of global warming or maybe it is just the natural cycle of the seas but in recent years an unlikely tourist activity has begun in the Irish sea: Whale-Watching.
Several humpback and fin whales have arrived in Irish waters about 5km from the County Wexford coastline. An abundance of herring fish in the area has attracted the massive creatures with a ‘super-pod’ of dolphins also being reported.
The arrival of the whales is sure to boost the local economy with fishing and tourist boats able to bring visitors and photographers out onto the water for a close-up view.
The photo shown here is from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group at iwdg.ie where you can find out more about Ireland’s newest tourist attraction.
By Michael Green
There has been a big increase in the number of Irish women who smoke cigarettes. One in three Irish women now smoke regularly with lung cancer now overtaking breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death among women in Ireland.
Tobacco companies have been blamed for targeting women, depicting their products as glamorous and buying high-profile endorsements in television programs such as ‘Sex in the City’, among others. The desire of younger women especially to curb their weight has also led to an increase in smoking since the use of cigarettes curbs appetite.
Perhaps most depressing is the statistic released by the Irish Cancer Society revealing that among women in disadvantaged or poorer sections of Irish society the rate of smoking may be a high as 50%. It is quite clear that among such groups that smoking is seen as a ‘coming of age’ event with children starting to smoke younger and younger.
The World Health Organisation reports that smoking among men in developed countries is actually in decline yet among women smoking is on the increase. Recent WHO statistics have shown that of the near 59 Million deaths worldwide in 2004 nearly 10% were directly caused by smoking. The developing world (ie poorer countries than Western countries) account for 70% of these deaths, once again underlining the conclusion that smoking is much more prevalent among the poor.
A recent Australian study revealed the following rates of smoking internationally:
Afghanistan 50% Greece 39% Russia 35% India 32% Ireland 27% UK 24% Australia 18% Canada 17% USA 17% Iran 11%
by Michael Green
The demonstrations by Ulster Unionists over the Union Jack Flag controversy have continued with no end in sight.
The protests were sparked by the recent decision by Belfast City Council to restrict the number of days that the British Union Jack flag would be flown above Belfast City Hall from 365 days to 17. Increasingly violent protests have been taking place with Belfast business owners despairing at the loss of revenue and warning of possible job losses.
Unionist protesters are even planning to demonstrate outside the Irish parliament building (Dail Eireann) in an event that is certain to be met with opposition by Dublin nationalists.
There is a very real concern that the protests in Ulster have been hi-jacked by paramilitary factions seeking to promote their own agenda. A confrontation with similar Dublin-based factions would result in a big problem for local law enforcement.
The part that the collapse in the Irish property market played in destroying the Irish economy has been well documented. The 2007 height of the market now seems like an eternity ago with prices falling by as much as 47% according to the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO).
The market collapsed, the banks collapsed, the economy collapsed. The EU, IMF and ECB provided loans to Ireland to keep the country running on condition that part of these loans was used to pay back bondholders in Europe, many of whom were based in Germany and France. The punitive rate of interest being charged for these loans is also the subject of ongoing negotiations between the Irish government and the European ‘troika’.
Nevertheless there are signs that 2012 may have marked the actual bottom of the property market. Figures from the CSO have revealed that house prices actually rose in November by 1.1%, despite showing an overall annual decline of just under 10%.
The news that US bank Wells Fargo has located four senior bank officials in London for the express purpose of examining the Irish property market is a further sign that there may still be some life in the housing market in Ireland. Irish banks are very reluctant to lend at the moment to anyone other than the most financially secure. Despite their protestations it has become nearly impossible for young first-time buyers to get a mortgage and buy a property.
A scenario whereby the economy recovers somewhat in tandem with the arrival of a new banking force could cause a significant upwards bounce for the ailing Irish construction industry that has always been one of the country’s biggest employers.