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Hello from Ireland where Spring is finally threatening to break through. It has been an amazing Winter with huge storms bringing record-breaking rainfall and high winds to the country.
This month we continue our exploration of the best that Ireland has to offer by visiting Dublinia and Leinster House, the seat of the Irish Parliament.
Until next time,
IRISH PEOPLE AMONG THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN EUROPE
A new study by the European Union has shown that the Irish people are a pretty happy bunch.
Scoring 7.4 out of 10 in the 'experience of life ranking' Ireland trails only behind Denmark (who are the perennial winners) with 8.4, Sweden and Finland with a score of 8, Luxembourg (7.8), Malta (7.7) and the Netherlands (7.7).
This is a surprising result given the recent economic devastation. The report found that Ireland was the third richest country in the EU, behind Luxembourg and Austria in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in purchasing power.
This study reflects other recent reports including the UNICEF report that ranked Ireland tenth best in the world for kids and the OECD Better Life index that revealed that Ireland had higher levels of education and longer life expectancy that most OECD countries. Similarly the World Happiness Report ranked Ireland as the 18th happiest country in the world!
Asked to comment on the apparent contradiction in Irish happiness given the severe economic setbacks the country has endured since 2008, the co-author of the World Happiness Report, John Helliwell remarked:
'This is just one more illustration that people's happiness depends to a much smaller extent on their income than they think it does'
The Report is based upon several variables:
- GDP per capita
- Life expectancy
- Perceived national corruption
- Freedom to make life choices
- Generosity of fellow citizens
- Having someone to rely on in times of trouble
The media portrayal of Irish society is well out of line with these surveys. Certainly the economy has taken a hammering over the last few years but it is not as if the entire gains of the 'Celtic Tiger' era have been wiped out. Infrastructure has improved greatly, quality of lifestyle has improved, social safety-nets are relatively well funded although the Irish health care system still leaves a lot to be desired.
If the news and television media are to be believed though, the country is awash with criminality, desperation, 'ghost estates', and unemployment.
Just like many countries in the world, Ireland does have all of these problems, but the repeated proof of Irish happiness and good 'quality of life' from several international sources simply does not reflect the malaise portrayed by the Irish news media.
Not to over-simplify the matter but the Irish people are being told that things are desperate, while those who have not emigrated, have a job, have a home and have access to health-care, just do not agree.
Of course those without a job or home certainly feel differently and while the current economic problems will certainly pass it will leave behind a society that has a much greater imbalance between the rich and those who are less well-off.
Personal happiness therefore, is very much viewed through an individual lens.
As Oscar Wilde put it:
'Ah, on what little things does happiness depend!
I have read all that the wise men have written,
and all the secrets of philosophy are mine,
yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.'
GAY MARRIAGE AMONG PROPOSED CHANGES TO IRISH CONSTITUTION
The Convention on the Constitution is a consultation body comprising of 66 Irish citizens and 33 politicians. In an effort to breach the gap between the ordinary people of Ireland and those who govern them the Convention was tasked with examining ways in which the 1937 Irish Constitution could be changed for the better.
Tom Arnold is the Chairman of the Convention:
'Our work may lead to changes in our Constitution, the document which reflects the values and aspirations of our society and defines and guarantees our rights as citizens'
The groups final report includes several recommendations including:
- Allowing non-resident Irish citizens the right to vote in the Irish Presidential Election
- The offence of blasphemy to be removed from the Constitution
- Voting age to be reduced from 18 years to 16 years old
- References to the separation of Church and State in the Constitution should be addressed
- The right to die to should be addressed
- Same sex marriage should be Constitutionally allowed
The Government has self-imposed a target of four months during which it is obliged to respond to the recommendations.
LATEST OPINION POLL A BOOST FOR SINN FEIN
The latest round of Irish opinion polls are not good news for the Government Parties. Fine Gael are currently in coalition with the Labour Party and both Parties have suffered badly in the wake of recent controversies surrounding the resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the recording of telephone conversations in Irish Police Stations (Garda stations).
The most recent survey allocated support as follows:
Fine Gael 26% (-3%)
Fianna Fail: 22% (+0%)
Independents/Other Parties: 22% (+0%)
Sinn Fein 21% (+5%)
Labour Party: 9% (-2%)
A pattern has emerged since the new Government was formed after the 2011 General Election and that pattern is not good news for the Labour Party. When the public is expressing dissatisfaction with the Government it seems to target the smaller Government Party (Labour) more than the larger party (Fine Gael). Additionally, when seeking a new home for their vote they seem to be running to Independents and to Sinn Fein.
At least that is what they are saying they will do.
Historically, Sinn Fein has always polled well prior to elections but when the results are actually tallied they have typically under-performed. The voters flirt with Sinn Fein, perhaps like the idea of voting Sinn Fein, but when it comes to the crunch balk at the paramilitary history of some of its T.D.'s (members of the Irish parliament), or dislike the sometimes thugish image that the party projects.
This is a real image problem for the Party and is holding back some of its T.D.'s who are exceptional and have communicated their message very effectively in Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament). The obvious remedy is for the 'old guard' to step down but there is no immediate prospect of this happening.
Against this backdrop there is a real opportunity for Fianna Fail.
If voters who are disenchanted with the Government Parties are going to ditch Sinn Fein at the last moment then Fianna Fail could reasonably expect to mop up a lot of those votes. The reality though is that Fianna Fail also has its own 'old guard' problem.
Several of its most prominent members, including Party leader Michael Martin, were part of the last Fianna Fail Government that was so spectacularly thrown out of office after the Irish banks collapsed. As long as the remnants of that disastrous Irish administration remain on the ballot paper then Fianna Fail will never be fully able to recover.
Which is good news for Fine Gael and for the various Independents and smaller Parties.
1200 QUALITY OF LIFE SENSORS TO MONITOR DUBLIN STREETS
The streets of Dublin are about to be put under even more surveillance.
This time though the monitors are not gauging traffic flows or crime levels but rather are aimed at improving the 'quality of life'.
Noise levels, Pollution, Flooding, Wind-Speed, Temperatures and a host of other issues are to be measured by a series of hi-tech gadgets to be placed on lamp-posts and public buildings in an effort to identify problems and then to prevent any problems from escalating. Dublin City Council plans to install as many as 6 of the Intel gadgets every Kilometre within Dublin City.
Peter Finnegan is the economic director of Dublin City Council and spoke about the increase of flooding in Dublin in recent years:
'We could attach the sensors to drains to get an idea of how the system is coping. This is going to help us improve how we respond to crises in the city.'
Amazingly, the new technology is being paid for by Intel who are using Dublin City as an experimental city for such technology.
Martin Curley is the vice-president of Intel Labs:
'There's an application called City-watch which overlays the sensors, so if a citizen sees something on, say, Dame Street, he or she can upload a picture through this app'
Citizens will therefore have the opportunity to contact the Council who will be constantly monitoring the sensors.
Intel is certainly in the Irish news at the moment. The company recently announced that it has invested 3.6 Billion Euro into developing its Leixlip plant.
This constitutes the largest single investment by any Company in the history of Ireland.
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FREE ATTRACTION #17: LEINSTER HOUSE (IRISH PARLIAMENT)
Leinster House is home to the Irish Parliament (Dáil Eireann). This is a fully functional working Parliament (some people would laugh at that assertion!) so some visitor security measures can be expected. Bring identification (a Passport or Irish Driving Licence, etc.). It is possible to view the members of the Irish Parliament 'in action' from the public viewing gallery (please keep your comments to yourself).
It has been claimed that Leinster House acted as an inspiration for the design of the US White House. The White House was designed by the Irishman James Hoban (1758-1831) who was born in County Kilkenny and who would have had ample opportunity as an aspiring architect in Dublin to view Leinster House.
Apart from being the historical home of the Irish Parliament Leinster House was also the venue for the first ever balloon ascent in Ireland, Richard Crosbie becoming airborne from the front lawn in 1783. The Great Industrial Exhibition was opened at Leinster House in 1853.
There are two ways to access the tours which are available Monday through Friday. The first involves being sponsored by a sitting T.D. (member of the Irish Parliament) or Senator. The second way is to simply 'walk-in' and this involves simply showing up at Leinster House at the appropriate time. There may be fewer public tours throughout the day and crowds may result in no places being available so get there early! It is best to check in advance about tour times and availability. For security reasons visitors are asked not to carry bulky bags into the building.
The tours are free and last approximately thirty to fifty minutes. Entrance to the tour is via the Kildare Street entrance which is located just a short distance from St. Stephen's Green in the very heart of Dublin City. The tour will explain the rich history and traditions associated with Leinster House and will involve visits to the Dáil and Seanad Chamber and the Oireachtas Committee Meetings Rooms. As with all good tours the final destination is the souvenir shop.
The free tour of Leinster House is something of a hidden gem.
A visit to the National Parliament of any country is to visit the very democratic core of that country. Simply by showing up at Leinster House visitors can be afforded entrance to the Irish Parliament, housed as it is in eighteenth century splendour. The location could hardly be better. Trinity College, O'Connell Street and St. Stephen's Green are all only a short walk away.
With a little planning it is possible to experience a fascinating (and free!) afternoon or morning tour and then spend the rest of the day exploring all that Dublin has to offer.
Find out more here: http://www.oireachtas.ie/parliament/visitsevents/visitleinsterhouse/
FEE-PAYING ATTRACTION #17: DUBLINIA
Dublinia is an excellent exhibition that focuses on the Viking and Medieval history of Dublin city. The exhibition has a number of recreations of Dublin street scenes and ancient dwellings which give a great insight into what life must have been like a thousand years ago.
There are 3 main exhibitions within the building:
- The Viking Dublin Exhibition focuses on the often violent relationship that the Vikings had with Dublin city. Here you can learn about their weapons, clothes, living conditions and lifestyle. Slavery was common in Dublin back then!
- The Medieval Dublin Exhibition shows what life was like in Dublin in the centuries after the Strongbow invasion. A medieval street is recreated here.
- The History Hunters Exhibition demonstrates how archaeology has combined with history and science to reveal the secrets of our ancestors. Actual Viking artifacts are on display.
Dublinia is located next to Christ Church Cathedral and is actually connected to the Cathedral via the overhead Synod Hall. It is a few hundred yards from Grafton Street, Trinity College and Dublin Castle. It could hardly be better located then for anyone wanting to explore the city.
Dublinia offers family-friendly events at certain times while guided tours run throughout the year. Audio translations in Irish, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish are available.
Occasionally it rains in Dublin! Yes, sorry to break the news to you. But there is no need to let the weather ruin your enjoyment. Dublinia is one of several top-notch indoor tourist destinations in Dublin city that include Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle, the National Gallery and the Book of Kells. Many people who visit Christ Church Cathedral spend an hour or two there, then have a break in the Cathedral cafe before heading across the road to the Dublinia exhibition.
A great day out!
Find out more here: http://www.dublinia.ie
A SCENARIO REPEATED
A Poem by Eugene Ward
Their cottage fell on hard times
With no coins to make repairs
They left their home of twenty years
With disappointment and despair.
Their destination was uncertain
They only knew they had to leave
The potato famine wiped them out
Leaving them with time to grieve.
It was bitter cold and windy
On that foggy winter day
When this poor and humble family
Set sail from Galway Bay.
As they left the coast of Ireland
Heavy steamer engines roared
While they asked for some direction
All their questions were ignored.
The North Atlantic sea was angry
As the ship was tossed around
But seven long days later
The anchor dropped in Boston town.
Today throughout this country
You'll see signs of Irish lore
And those Emerald Isle traditions
Will be felt forever more.
COSTELLO FAMILY REUNIONS IN AUSTRALIA
by Neal Costello
GAELIC PHRASES OF THE MONTH
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