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Hello from Ireland where all the talk is about the possibility of a banking enquiry into the near collapse of the Irish financial system in 2008. Five years later! Some of the Icelandic bankers and officials who bankrupted that country are finished their prison terms by now! The chances of anyone going to prison in Ireland for our financial collapse are very slim indeed.
In this months issue we continue our exploration of the very best Irish tourist attractions, free and fee-paying. The Hugh Lane Gallery and the legendary site at Newgrange are examined. If you are contemplating a visit to Ireland be sure to check out our tourist information pages.
We welcome your input so please do send in your article or story!
Until next month,
GREEDY IRISH POLITICIANS REVERT TO TYPE IN SEANAD SHOWDOWN
The division between what is broadly termed 'the establishment' and the ordinary citizens of Ireland has rarely been more evident than in recent weeks.
The current Government is committed to holding a referendum to provide for the abolition of the Seanad (one of the Irish houses of Parliament - pronounced 'shan-idd'). The Seanad has very little real power and although it can delay the passage of legislation by up to three months it cannot ultimately stop laws being made by the main Irish Parliament.
It is an unelected body and thus has become a breeding ground for 'wannabe' politicians and as a means of rewarding cronyism and political favours. Several of the countries Universities get to nominate members of the Seanad also, a privelege they guard jealously.
It was in the run-up to the most recent General Election that Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared that he thought the Seanad should be abolished and that his Party were committed to holding a referendum and giving the Irish people the chance to have their say.
It is with a sense of despair then that the everyday Irish person has to witness the campaign being currently waged by members of the political, legal and academic elite in this country, and aided by a compliant media.
The promise to abolish the Seanad house was put forward at the precise moment when just about every institution in the country was a potential target. The country was bankrupt. It made no sense whatsoever to have a second Parliament house at a ridiculous cost.
With a population of just over 4.5 million the country is served by 166 directly elected T.D.'s and 60 Senators in the Seanad. Utter madness. Taoiseach Enda Kenny estimates the abolition of the Seanad could save 20 Million Euro annually:
'There is something fundamentally wrong, in my view, in politicians asking others to change and make real sacrifices and not doing the same ourselves'
Against this backdrop it looked certain that the guillotine would fall. But perhaps unsurprisingly many politicians and members of the elite, and particularly those Senators who are most likely to lose out on huge pay and expenses, have reversed their position and are now seeking to have the Seanad reformed instead of abolished.
The 'Save our Seanad' campaign is in full flow:
'It acts as a safeguard against the excesses of the main Parliament' they say.
'It has propelled some very fine people into public life' they say.
Oversight of the behaviour of the Irish Parliament is provided by its own Committees, the News Media and ultimately by the Irish people who get to vote people out of office every 5 years if they so wish (often sooner). And as for training people for political life in the future? That is the job of the political parties, of debating societies and pubs everywhere.
The Seanad is an expensive talking shop populated by the unelectable, by cronies of political big-shots, by academics and poseurs. It is appalling to witness those who most benefit from its existence scratch around for every conceivable tactic and strategy to try to keep it going. The worst kind of money-grabbing. Legalized theft. Looting of what is left of the public finances.
Our money - the Irish peoples money - being used to line the pockets of a bunch of dilettantes.
The existence of the Seanad is contrary to the spirit of an Irish Republic and it should be abolished at the first opportunity.
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VESTED INTERESTS ATTEMPT TO SCUPPER ALCOHOL ADVERTISING BAN
The ongoing attempts to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption in Ireland have been met with predictable opposition from those with most to lose.
The head of Diageo in Ireland, who own the Guinness brand, has warned that a ban on sports sponsorship in Ireland could lead to a reduction in its future investment in the country. The thinly veiled threat is aimed squarely at the Government who are attempting to ban sponsorship by alcohol companies at all Irish sporting events. The plan is to phase out all sponsorship links between high-profile sporting events and alcohol brands by the year 2020.
The Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish Rugby benefit greatly from sponsorship by Guinness and Heineken respectively. It is inevitable that the ban of this sponsorship will mean less money for these huge sports. Nevertheless the Government seem determined to press ahead with the ban, realizing the devastating effect that alcohol consumption can have on young lives. The cost to the Irish taxpayer in dealing with health-care and crime issues from those abusing alcohol costs the State at least 3.7 Billion Euro annually. (* note 1)
A recent report by the Health Research Board has found that 58% of Irish people believe the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption while 85% of Irish people believe that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is far too high. Average alcohol consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a startling increase.
Recent initiatives (and the recession) have helped to curb some of these excesses. A CSO report indicates that alcohol consumption in Ireland is actually down 19% since 2001.
Speaking at the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Committee on Transport and Communications Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, lambasted the drinks industry:
I thought it was an absolute disgrace to read a report of an international company, Diageo, making an attack on the Irish Government and the Irish State about how they should conduct their business and investment. This is a multinational that has no interest whatsoever in Ireland except they happen to have a product beginning with 'G' and they promote that in Irish pubs just to get bigger profits around the world.
John Treacy is Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Council and won a Silver medal in the Marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He offered a different angle, suggesting that any ban would force the very best of Irish rugby players to ply their trade abroad, in much the same way that the best Irish soccer players work in England.
The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland also had their say to the Committee arguing that any ban would not address alcohol misuse. A spokesperson remarking:
Evidence shows that the principal influencers on youth drinking are parents and peers.
It should not be a real surprise then that those sporting bodies who receive sponsorship from alcohol companies would oppose any ban. It would mean that they would have to find new sponsors.
But perhaps the real question that is not being asked is just why the alcohol companies engage in such advertising? The answer is obvious if unspoken. It is clear that they hugely benefit from their sponsorship and especially benefit in attracting younger people to their brands, since it is to a large degree the younger generation who are most passionate about sport.
Younger people. The next generation of drinkers.
It is ironic that sporting agencies that are supposed to help further the health and well-being of young people are arguing for their efforts to be associated with Ireland's biggest killer, alcohol. Of course they are most concerned about the next five years and about promoting sport in Ireland, which is admirable. But it is the next twenty-five years and the next fifty years that really should be the focus.
The links between pub-owners and politicians, especially in rural locations is hard to break. The financial contribution of the multi-national drinks companies is impossible to ignore. The Irish sports bodies are even arguing against a sponsorship ban.
Is it any wonder that there is such a huge alcohol problem in Ireland?
Meanwhile the Irish drinking binge goes on.
* note 1: See http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/alcohol-related-harm-facts-and-statistics/
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CALLS FOR END TO AUSTERITY AS IRELAND PLUNGES BACK INTO RECESSION
Those commentators who have been critical of the overuse of austerity policies in Ireland are claiming that Ireland's plunge back into recession is proof of their views.
Since 2008 the Irish economy has been battered by international forces beyond its control in addition to massive self-inflicted damage caused by a property market bubble and the near collapse of the Irish banking system.
The effects were far-reaching. Unemployment stands at 13.7%, public services have been slashed, bitter wrangling continues between the Government and its own employees in the Civil and Public services. Emigration has soared to Famine-era levels while those left behind have been burdened with extra taxes and levels of debt that will take decades to pay off.
Ireland re-entered recession in the final quarter of last year and with 'negative growth' prevailing it seems that the austerity and tax increases have dampened any possibility of a domestic recovery. The Property Tax did not help either. Demanded as a condition of loans granted to Ireland by the EU/IMF/ECB the Property Tax was almost gleefully imposed by the Fine Gael Government who clearly see it as an easy way to bring in finance. Political cover was provided by the European 'troika' who could be blamed for demanding its imposition - 'it wasn't us - its them!' Job done.
The uncertainty caused by the Property Tax, the fear of its impact and the never-ending burden of yet more taxation certainly played a huge part in dragging the country down again.
Ireland is also more exposed to events outside its borders than most other countries. As an island nation the most basic raw materials must be imported, raising costs. Exports to Britain, Europe and beyond have to be expensively transported, raising costs. Any change in the value of the Sterling and US Dollar currencies can lay waste to the best laid of export plans in the space of a few hours, again raising costs.
Even bad weather can effect the Irish economy, especially domestic spending, further depressing a beaten-down population who retreat to their 'mortgaged to the hilt' apartments in semi-derelict half-built housing estates to ponder the future - 'I wonder if Australia is still looking for electricians?'.
Maybe this is the bottom of the trough?
Domestic spending looks to be improving now that the Property Tax shock is pretty much out of the way. Anecdotal evidence of a recovery in both the construction market and the property market have been borne out by recent numbers. Major road projects are being undertaken for the first time since the economic crash in 2008, a sure sign that things are about to improve. The South County Dublin section of the Dublin property market has actually seen a 12% increase in prices in the first 6 months of 2013 according to Irish property website Daft.ie, with an overall rise of 5.3% in Dublin prices over the last year.
Hot stuff. And even the weather has improved!
So despite the economic woes there does appear to be grounds for optimism. This is year five of the greatest economic crash in the history of the country. Being well positioned to catch a ride on the global economic upturn that will inevitably come must surely be the current Government's major priority, as well as its best bet for being re-elected.
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IRISH TOURISTS ARRESTED IN PORTUGAL FOR WATCHING BINGO
The desire to stamp out illegal gambling in Portugal seems to have taken a bizarre turn. A group of 28 British and Irish tourists were arrested by Portuguese police for being in a bar where a game of bingo was taking place.
Under Portuguese law any gambling, even bingo, needs to have an appropriate licence. The first game of bingo had concluded when the police swooped on the bar, arresting those present, regardless of whether or not they were actually participating in the game.
The owner of the Yorkshire Tavern is Marianne Pittaway:
"It is crazy, an absolute joke. We were playing bingo for biscuits, chocolate and some alcoholic drinks. There was no money exchanged apart from paying for the ticket. The money we make pays for prizes.
Everyone in the bar who was playing bingo was handed a 300 Euro fine plus a three-month suspended sentence. Those who were in the bar but not playing were given a 150 Euro fine plus a three-month suspended sentence. I was given a €700 fine and a four-month suspended sentence and [partner] António was given a 500 Euro fine and a four-month suspended sentence."
The incident has the potential to be a public relations disaster for the Portuguese tourist industry. While it is reasonable of course for the Portuguese to enforce their laws it is perhaps counter-productive of them to target holiday-makers for such a minor infraction, especially as these are the same tourists who are bringing much needed finance into the local economy.
Portugal is in receipt of 78 Billion Euro EU/IMF/ECB loans following the collapse of its property market. Unemployment in Portugal in the first quarter of 2013 was 17.7%, as reported by the Instituto Nacional de Estatistica.
Scaring tourists away is hardly going to help that number.
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FREE ATTRACTION #12: THE DUBLIN CITY GALLERY - HUGH LANE
The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin is one of the world's oldest Galleries of Modern and Contemporary Art and is located at Parnell Square, near the top of O'Connell Street, a short walk from the GPO and the Dublin Spire.
Hugh Lane (1875-1915) was a millionaire art collector who offered to donate his entire art collection to the Irish Government, but who initially refused! Furious, Lane offered his collection to the National Gallery in London but later relented and agreed to re-offer to Dublin after the Irish authorities changed their initial decision. Before the arrangements could be finalized Lane was killed aboard the ocean liner Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915. A legal wrangle with the National Gallery in London over the subsequent decades means that the collection of art is effectively shared between the two Galleries.
The museum has a collection of impressionist paintings by Degas, Renoir and Manet, some marvellous stained glass by Harry Clarke and regularly houses exhibitions by modern Irish artists. Seminars and public lectures by artists, philosophers and art historians add to the ethos of public involvement in the museum. Free Sunday afternoon concerts by the very best of Irish and International musicians are always popular with the museum offering a peaceful haven of tranquility among the bustle of the city at its doorstep.
Children's workshops are a very popular activity in the museum and are a great way to get your kids submerged into the fabric of Irish cultural life, even if only for a few hours:
FInd out more here: http://www.hughlane.ie
The museum offers a lot to visitors and it is free. A stroll from Trinity College to O'Connell street, taking in the sights, could culminate in a visit to the Gallery where the concerts, lectures and kids clubs offer further options to visitors. A little bit of planing in advance could result in a marvellous and free day out!
FEE-PAYING ATTRACTION #11: BRÚ NA BÓINNE VISITOR CENTRE (NEWGRANGE), MEATH
The Brú Na Bóinne Visitor Centre is most often simply referred to as Newgrange. The Passage Tomb at Newgrange was constructed over 5000 years ago, before Stonehenge in England or the Pyramids in Egypt. It was constructed by 'Stone Age' humans as a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance and as such is a truly remarkable achievement.
The 'World Heritage Site' at Newgrange is a large mound of earth covering a tomb-like structure. The 19 metre long inner passage leads to an inner cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. Newgrange is one of series of structures built along the River Boyne that includes Knowth and Dowth. The construction is remarkable. At the annual Winter solstice, from December 18th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber. As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. A remarkable feat of engineering by any standard.
Access to the site is by guided tour only. A visit to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre is followed by a short bus trip to the monument. Visitors can drive to the visitor center directly or avail of one of the many bus tour packages or private tours that are available. Newgrange is located approximately 58km from Dublin city centre, allow an hour to drive there.
Apart from Newgrange the Boyne Valley is also home to the Hill of Tara, the Village of Slane, Trim Castle, Bective Abbey and much more. A full day at a minimum should be allowed to visit Newgrange while this area is certainly worthy of a couple of days exploration. As always a little planning will go a long way to a rewarding experience here.
Ireland is blessed with many sites and attractions to delight visitors. Perhaps none can be regarded as being as 'pure' an experience as Newgrange. These monuments are the exact polar opposite of the commercialized tourist experiences offered in some other parts of the country. Certainly there is a place for every kind of tourist attraction and this is not to denigrate those that are perhaps more contrived than Newgrange. Rather, there is just no escaping the connection that a visitor can make with Ireland and the Irish culture by a visit to these ancient stones and rocks. It is as close an experience as you will get to connecting with the ancient peoples who lived on this island.
Find out more at: http://www.newgrange.com
SEAN T. O'KELLY: SECOND PRESIDENT OF IRELAND =========================================
Seán Thomas O'Kelly (1882-1966) was the second President of Ireland from 1945 to 1959. He was a member of the original Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) in 1918. He served as Minister for Local Government (1932–1939) and Minister for Finance (1939–1945). He was a prominent member of Sinn Fein and fought in the 1916 Easter Rising.
Born in Wellington Street in Dublin city centre O'Kelly became interested in the Gaelic revival that was under way and became a member of the governing body of the Gaelic League in 1910, its General Secretary in 1915. He joined Sinn Fein in 1905 and such was his involvement that he travelled to America in 1915 to inform Clan na Gael of the imminent plans for a rising. Clan na Gael was the Irish republican organization in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was very important for fund-raising for the rebel movement back in Ireland. After the 1916 Easter Rising O'Kelly was jailed but later escaped from prison in Fairfield in England. He became Ceann Comhairle (chairman) of the very First Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) in 1918.
O'Kelly was a close ally of Eamon deValera. After the war of Independence he sided with deValera and rejected the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. Civil War followed and O'Kelly was again jailed. With the defeat of the rebels and the implementation of the Treaty deValera formed a new political party, Fianna Fail, with Irish independence its goal. O'Kelly was appointed Vice-President of the new republican party that swept to power in 1932, presiding over an Army that he and his colleagues had previously fought against only a few short years earlier.
His tenure was not without controversy. He repeatedly tried to embarrass the Governor-General of the Irish Free State, James McNeill. When McNeill later resigned deValera was faced with the task of having to appoint a successor. An awkward situation for the Irish leader given that he had previously refused to even recognise the position of Governor-General of the Irish Free State.
Despite being widely tipped for the job O'Kelly was initially snubbed and not even considered for the position, possibly because of his membership of the Catholic fraternal organisation, the Knights of Columbanus. deValera suspected the organisation had a source inside his Government who was giving information to the powerful Catholic Church in Ireland. The role of Governor-General was replaced with that of President of Ireland in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. deValera now used the opportunity to nominate O'Kelly, thus removing him from the real table of power. The plan came to naught however when an all-Party agreement was hatched to install Douglas Hyde, the principal founder of the Gaelic League, as the first President of the country.
In 1945, after the second world war in which Ireland remained neutral, O'Kelly was finally elected President and was re-elected in 1952 for a second term. One of the highlights of his terms in Office was when he addressed the United States Congress in 1959, the first Irish President to do so. This was a very important recognition by the USA of the legitimacy of the new Irish Republic. He retired in 1959 to be replaced by his mentor, Eamon deValera.
He was described as a 'Model President' by the 'Irish Times' Newspaper. His links to the Catholic Church were a constant source of irritation to deValera yet he remained relatively scandal-free during his tenure in office. His reputation as being an excessive drinker never really impacted on his public duties although he was often regarded as being somewhat tactless. Despite this he was regarded as being honest and trustworthy.
A veteran of the Easter Rising and a champion of Irish independence. He was buried in Glasnevin in 1966, aged 84 years.
THE HUGUENOTS IN IRELAND
YOUTUBE VIDEOS OF IRISH INTEREST
You can view our archive of Videos of Irish interest here:
The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin
Newgrange in County Meath
The Huguenots in Ireland
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