North Atlantic Skyline, despatches from the west coast of Ireland

Fecks and the City......................................... Friday 29th November 2002

The Government announced its National Spatial Strategy yesterday. So what, you might ask. Well, the strategy lists the cities that will receive extra investment. Galway is one of them. Great ! Extra investment, higher house prices and bigger traffic jams. Progress, surely.

The plan also lists the towns that will be expanded to be the cities of the future. To say that the compilation of this list has been the subject of political lobbying is a bit like saying that being the Minister for Transport is a good way of stocking up on booze for Xmas - a scurrilous rumour without foundation.

Castlebar/Ballina is listed (good man, P Flynn! As long as there's breath in your body, roads will be built in Mayo) as is Tuam and Ennis.

Interestingly, a city of Athlone/Mullingar/Tullamore is also mooted. How can this be ? Will the Bog of Allen be covered in tarmac ?

 Athlone seems to be a natural candidate - it is in the centre of the country, two rail lines to the West intersect there and it has a newly opened national. Enter Brian Cowan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and fully paid-up Biffo. Suddenly the plan was extended to Athlone/Tullamore.

In a seemingly unrelated event, Mary O'Rourke (based in Athlone) lost her seat to Donie Cassidy (the second most famous man in Mullingar*) at the last election.  So how was Mullingar added to this new midland city? Answers on the inside of a handwoven wig please.

Last week, the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige off the Iberian coast dominated the news. As I watched the bow of the ship disappear beneath the waves, I remember thinking that it was a pity that Celine Dion wasn't perched on the deck, warbling her chart-busting ditty (Neeeer.... Faaaaar, etc) as it sank. It would have been a small silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud. I was reminded of this as I strolled about Gothenborg where I'm currently on a work assignment.

Perusing the music shops last night  revealed a whole other side to this otherwise
fine city. As the footballer John Aldridge said of his stint in Spain, it's like living in a foreign country.

Musically, it's like that episode of Star Trek where the crew travel back in time to twentieth century Earth. Everything seems fine - the streets are clean, the trains run on time, and THEN, they discover that the Nazis are running things. In other words, goodness has been replaced by unspeakable evil.

What else would explain the  reaction to the release of a new Joey Tempest album in this city - a prominent position on the front rack in a record shop, instead of the baying mob it so richly deserves.

Another hot release this year is Jingle Babies - Christmas songs sung by babies. Just the gift for new parents this Christmas - the sound of more screaming kids.

Ireland is well represented too. Johnny Logan has an album out here for Xmas, called Reach For Me. Indeed I would, Johnny, preferrably with a tire iron. And then there is Andrew Strong. Ah Andy, where did it all go wrong? Strong was the singing bus conductor in the Alan Parker movie, The Commitments. At the time, his manager said that Strong had the potential to be the next Joe Cocker. Like we needed a second one.

Judging by the album cover, Andrew's girth has expanded more than his repertoire. Alarmingly, he seems to be morphing into Zucherro, that Italian chancer that croaked his way into the charts a few years ago. The album is called Gypsy's Kiss, though judging by the cut of him, a kiss of soap and water wouldn't go astray.  

* Shame on you - 
Joe Dolan obviously .

Near and Far.........................................Wednesday 27th November 2002

The Cork Examiner reports that a safe sex campaign is to be launched in universities across the country.

20,000 condoms will be distributed as part of the campaign, which is being run by Durex and the Irish Family Planning Association.

It will target UCD, DCU, Maynooth NUI, and the Galway and Mayo Institutes of Technology

because those universities are  obviously located in the most
disease-ridden and debauched cities (I might be paraphrasing a bit there).
I notice that Limerick is not listed, and for good reason. When I attended the NIHE there (and yes, I know what they call it now), many issues concerned us students, but the danger of running low on 'johnnies' wasn't one of them. One of the features of an engineering college is a complete lack of women. There was a teaching college in the city absolutely teeming with young ladies, but it wasn't called the Virgin megastore for nothing.

At least we had our health.
I'm currently visiting Gothenburg, on the west coast of Sweden. Funnily enough, it is raining cats and dogs here too. Gothenburg is a bit like the Galway of Sweden - it's on the coast, has a small and accessible city centre, it is a university town, and the weather is much the same.

One of the differences between the two is that Gothenburg has a fully integated transport system, that includes a tram system. In fact, it is not unlike the plans for the Luas system in Dublin. Using the tram yesterday, I marvelled at how I could travel from the city centre to a nearby industrial estate, unhindered by other traffic."This is how trams will transform the traffic problems in Dublin". My awe didn't last long. Later that morning, the doors on a  tram couldn't close, and had to be stopped for repairs. While it sat on the rails, all the other trams behind it had to wait...and wait.

Later that evening, in the city centre, a bus conked out as it was crossing the tram lane. Another logjam. I'd like to think they were just having an off day.

Long and Winding Roads..............................................................Wednesday 20th November 2002

The Mayo News reports that complaints against Gardai in Mayo have almost doubled this year (from 18 to 31). No reason is given - either a Judge Dredd figure has set up shop in Castlebar Garda station or there are just more disgruntled citizens. I cannot think of any major incident in Mayo this year, except for the melee in Westport that followed the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage during the summer (first we pray, then we batter). But surely that couldn't account for the rise, could it ?

Iarnrod Eareann have a knack of churning out disgruntled citizens at any time. They get a tongue-lashing from Westport town Councillor Margaret Adams who is quoted as saying

the type of carriages used on the Dublin to Westport midweek service were "atrocious".

Gathering steam, as it were, she continues...

it seems the powers that be in Iarnród Éireann have a policy of ‘To Hell or to Connacht’ because they clearly don’t take Western passengers seriously.

The man that coined the phrase, Oliver Cromwell (and who accounted for his fair share of disgruntled Irish people) is listed in the top ten Great Britons poll run by the BBC. He's currently listed in last place with Brunel (dismissed by the BBC's Andrew Marr as the man who joined Bristol to the rest of England) still holding Princess Diana off the top spot. My own favourite, Darwin is trailing at number 4. John Lennon is in 7th place - his songwriting partner Paul McCartney only makes 19th (who once released a song called Give Ireland back to the Irish which was banned by the BBC).

There has been much discussion about the cutbacks due in next month's budget. It is expected that infrastructure plans will suffer accordingly (so Expect to hear far more complaints about Iarnrod Eareann) - hence the headline Pressure on Fianna Fáil TDs in West to revolt against Govt. Such a revolt is as likely as a surge in voting for Cromwell from Dundalk.

There has been some good news this week.

Clare Island was celebrating on Saturday night when local man Rory McCabe (24) won €72,050 on RTE’s Winning Streak programme. Rory had only returned to the Island in the past two weeks after studying in Germany and he had to brave rough Atlantic currents and widespread flooding to get to Dublin in time for the show. He began his journey on Thursday morning when he left the Island and travelled to Roonagh Pier with a group of family and friends. He then had to get through the floodwaters, which covered the eastern, half of the country but his persistence paid off. He walked away with 72,050 euro having opted for 33,000 euro cash rather than a top of the range car.

Sensible lad. Given the predicted cutbacks in road-building, it will be a while before top-of-the-range cars will be able to whizz around Clare Island. At least he'll have enough money for the train fare (and a hotwater bottle).

And finally...

The Shamrockshire Eagle , in an article headed The Spinning Spy Scandal comments on the current IRA spying in Stormont story (see Slugger O'Toole for extensive coverage) and describes attempts to link the IRA with ETA and the PLO as black propaganda. He cites an article by Christopher Hitchens on as an example, and quotes North Atlantic Skyline (no less!) as an example of how people are duped by such dirty tricks. Alas, I think the Eagle is doing a bit of spinning of its own.

Hitchens' thoughtful article, called Toward a definition of terrorism is a meditation on terrorism in general - and tackles the issue of how one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

Enfolded in any definition of “terrorism,” it seems to me, there should be a clear finding of fundamental irrationality, muses Hitchens. He mentions the IRA and the PLO in the same article but makes no attempt to link them as organizations. There is a difference.

On the IRA, he says

In London and Belfast during the same period, I was more than once within blast or shot-range of the IRA and came to understand that the word “indiscriminate” meant that I was as likely to be killed as any other bystander. I also remember seeing a car bomb explode outside the High Court in London, and I remember a friend of mine being taken hostage by Provisional IRA gangsters. However, at no point in this period did I fail to remind myself that the British policy in Ireland was stupid and doomed and — much more important — open to change.

Funnily enough, Gerry Adams (in an interview with Vincent Browne on RTE Radio 1 a few weeks ago) admitted that IRA crimes such as Bloody Friday and Claudy were terrible deeds, but reminded peple of the context in which they were committed. Hardly black propaganda. As for my contribution, I was commenting on the attitude by media commentators to the allegations, not whether the allegations were true.

As for the allegations themselves, it's hardly news that the IRA have links with ETA or the PLO. In Robert Fisk's excellent book on the invasion of Lebanon, Pity the Nation, the author recalls bumping into an IRA volunteer fighting with the PLO in Beirut in 1982 against the Phalangists and the Israeli army. Fisk had met him when he was covering the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Nor is it any secret that Sinn Fein and Herri Batisuna have close links. And as for the claim that there is no link between Sinn Fein and the IRA (or Herri Batisuna and ETA)? That would be, in the words of Fr. Jack Hackett, an ecumenical matter. Only this evening, Danny Morrison became the latest republican to admit that he was in the IRA. Not much of an admission since he was caught red-handed by the RUC with an IRA hit squad who were about "to deal with" an informer.

By the way, there is a well-publicised investigation into alleged activity by Northern security forces in the Republic - the one we all know about. The website of the Government enquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings of May 17 1974 is here, and criticism about that enquiry is expressed by renowned author Don Mullan here as well as by Amnesty International.


Your cheque is in the mail..or on the mantlepiece............................. Tuesday 19th November 2002

If it's Christmas..then there must be a postal strike. Sub-postmasters are protesting at the rate they get for handling mail, and have picketed main sorting centres in Galway and Mayo.

The debate escalated two weeks ago, when 540 rural sub-postmasters began suspending sorting facilities at their sub-post offices on Mondays and Fridays. An Post responded by delivering mail to main sorting offices and allowing some postal workers to sort mail in their own homes.

I bet Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't get these questions

Riverdance is still orbiting the globe more often than the International Space Station (and with more people on board). It's in Memphis, home of you-know-who, and in an interview with a local paper, it's producer, Peter Erskine claimed that Riverdance "...wouldn't have been this successful, he said, were it not for broader, socio-political movements in the last decade as well as a major overhaul of Ireland's cultural identity.

Maybe so , but how does one explain the rise of The Lyrics Board, then ?

Bit by Bit

Like most of Ireland's transport infrastructure, the Irish railway network is a joke. One could fly to America in the time it takes to cross the country by train. It doesn't help that Iarnrod Eireann, the semi-state company in charge of the railways, is constantly under pressure from to government to simultaneously save money (which it can never do) and provide basic infrastructure for the good of regional communities (which it cannot afford to do).

The West of Ireland is full of disused railway lines - a network that stretched through some of the most beautiful and most visited parts of Ireland. The latest act by Iarnrod Eireann is to dismantle a link between the main Dublin to Galway line and a now-unused Claremorris to Limerick line. A far-sighted government might see it as a good thing that tourists arriving from either Shannon or Dublin could visit the West of Ireland via train. It is a pity we don't have such a Government..

Last year, according to an article in the Mayo News, 2.79 million tourists visited the West of Ireland, spending 638 million euro. I was in Mallorca during the summer. From Palma to Soller, about 40 miles along the coast, there is a tourist railway built in 1927 by Siemens. It is small but charming and it means that people can visit remote tourist spots easily. A bus service links the coastal towns - for short hops (10-15 miles or so), the cost is a single euro. OK, Mallorca gets 8 million visitors a year, but visitors to Ireland spend considerably more per person than those in Mallorca.

Of course, a rail service connecting Galway city to ,say, Clifden, would also be a godsend to those commuting from the west into Galway. What are the chances of it happening ??

Dark Tide

As I write this, it is not yet known if the cargo of the Prestige, the oil tanker that sank off the coast of Spain, will drift as far as the southwest coast of Ireland Needless to say, it will be a disaster if it does (it will be a disaster for Spain in any case, by the looks of things). As this RTE report shows, it has been a rough week for fishermen closer to home.

Do you remember the sunshine ? Moonrise over the OwenGlen river in Clegg, a few miles outside Clifden. (Click on the image for a larger version).

And Finally,

Eamonn Dunphy was banned from driving for 10 years for his fifth driving conviction. I wonder how many driving convictions does one have to have before a life ban or jail applies. Or do you have to actually kill someone ?

Roads less travell'd..................................................................... Sunday 17th November 2002

The National Safety Council and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland launched what it termed a hard-hitting campaign to alert people of the high percentage of pedestrians involved in road accidents (1500 over the last ten years). Most of the 2 millio euro campaign consists of TV advertising. I doubt if it will make the slightest difference, at least in the Republic.

Traffic sign in Kinvarra Galway Ireland exhorting drivers to be careful

People have been told for years to wear, when walking on the roads, light-coloured clothes, reflectors and to carry torches. And most of them still don't bother. The other problem is the habit of Irish drivers to treat the hard shoulder on Irish roads as a second lane. That's not so much of a problem for slow-moving cars using the hard shoulder to allow others to pass duting the day, but it is a recipe for disaster at night.

(A few weeks ago in Galway, a jeep passed me driving on the hard shoulder on the wrong side of the road (i.e. my side). It was dark, and having vehicles passing on both sides at once was a little unsettling. And if there were pedestrians walking along the verge ? Too bad, I guess.

Even when someone is arrested for dangerous driving, the courts are sometimes reluctant to apply hard sentences. The Mayo News carries a story about a Garda whose driving caused a crash. The judge found that the State's case against Garda John Murphy had been "entirely proven" after hearing "compelling and unshakeable" evidence from the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident and an independent witness.

However, after considering a plea from defence solicitor, Mr. Aidan Crowley, Judge Devins chose not to endorse Garda Murphy's driving license as this had "more serious implications for a member of the Garda Siochana than any other defendant."

In other words, someone who drives for a living but is demonstrably a bad driver is free to carry on as before because it might affect his job. This excuse is often used (and works) for those who drive as part of their job. The judiciary might consider that, for people who are killed and injured because of bad driving, the continuing job prospects of the perpetrator has a very low priority indeed.

The Morris Tribunal (yes, another one) has grabbed the headlines in the last few weeks. In a nutshell, the death of a cattle dealer, Richie Barron in October 1996 and the investigation of his presumed murder has led to allegations of gross Garda corruption, including framing and beating suspects and planting evidence. Even more seriously, it is alleged that Gardai planted guns and explosives to improve their detection rate against paramilitary organizations.

Like all tribunals, the first few weeks are taken up with opening statements - so that every accusation and allegation (however wild) is made without challenge (they will be invetigated in detail over the coming months). The Irish Emigrant has a concise summary of the allegations so far.

The Irish times described a confidential Garda report that was submitted to the Tribunal that revealed that senior gardaí were aware more than four years ago of serious failures in the investigation into the death of cattle dealer Mr Richie Barron. The report, disclosed at the Morris tribunal yesterday, said there appeared to be no "co-ordination or overall responsibility taken" in the initial investigation into Mr Barron's death on the morning of October 14th, 1996.

To complicate matters, a family at the center of the investigation are refusing to take part in the tribunal. The McBrearty's allege that certain Gardaí tried to frame them for the alleged murder of Richie Barron. Their complaints are that their costs (of legal representation to the Tribunal) are not guaranteed by the State, and that the role of the State itself (including the Attorney General and Minister for Justice) is not covered by the terms of reference of the Tribunal.

Last week, the Examiner reported that Frank McBreaty Jnr says two Donegal Ministers and a Fianna Fail TD have indicated they are to contact Minister for Justice Michael McDowell regarding the Morris Tribunal into allegations of Garda misconduct in Donegal. Mr McBrearty alleges the offices of Mary Coughlin, Pat Gallager and Cecelia Keveneay have approached him.

Minister Gallagher has denied the claim.

Guinness is good for you, but Bog Myrtle is better........................ Wednesday 13th November 2002

Congratulations to the Biddy Early Brewery in Inagh, Co. Clare, who were given an honourable mention at 8th Watford and District Camra beer festival in Herdfordshire in the UK last week. The CAMRA folk (Campaign for Real Ale) are pretty fussy about their beer, and they took a shine to the Black Biddy - a stout and the Red Biddy, a intriguing concoction of a red beer that includes bog myrtle. You can see a picture of bog myrtle here - in my neck of the woods, it's just another weed. It does have some desirable properties, and this article describes the possible pharmaceutical uses for the plant.

The leaves are said to be of special value during bouts of depression or strain as it quickly revives the spirit, quickens the mind and strengthens the nerves. It has also been reported that cases of poor memory and mental confusion in old age were successfully treated with bog myrtle.

Perhaps drinking gallons of Red Biddy might not be the best way to help a failing memory, though it would certainly strengthen the nerves.

There's also a Blonde Biddy and a Real Biddy, which sound just like the sort of characters you'd want to avoid meeting in CP's in Galway at the end of the night. If you did, you might want to plead mental confusion the next morning...

Talking Peace, Preparing for War................................................... Tuesday 12th November 2002

The IRA spy ring in Stormont story in Northern Ireland rumbles on. While Unionists are predictably angry, nationalists are more sanguine. Mark Durkan (leader of the SDLP ) stated that says he doesn't believe an inquiry into allegations of an IRA "spy ring" at Stormont is justified or would serve a useful purpose, while Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein) insisted that ''claims and allegations'' of a Republican espionage plot would not undermine the Irish peace process after a civil servant was accused of spying on First Minister David Trimble for the IRA.

The notion that IRA intelligence gathering is a benign activity is being peddled in the Republic as well - that spying on prison officers and policemen is a way of keeping IRA Volunteers busy. There is only one reason to gather such information - to act upon it. Given that many dissident republicans (i.e. those still actively terrorising people) come from the ranks of the Provisionals, this information may well be used to deadly effect even if the IRA remain on ceasefire.

If it was discovered that the UVF or UDA was gathering detailed information on Gardai and TDs in the Republic, there would be a huge outcry here, with accusations of PNSI and MI5 involvement. Why should we expect a different reaction when it is the IRA under suspicion ?

So Long and Thanks for all the Fish......... ................... .................... Monday 11th November 2002

When I first heard the news reports about the threat to the Irish box from foreigners, I thought "Not another bloody story about Andrea Corr and Robbie Williams" (okay okay I'll get me coat). Nope, the entire Irish fishing industry is under serious threat unless Dermot Ahern (Minister for the Marine, among other things) can pull a diplomatic rabbit out the hat in Brussels.

Karlin Lillington's blog points to a story about Trinity College, Dublin threatening to sue the makers of Star Wars because they used one of the TCD library buildings as the basis for one of the movie sets in the film. Hmm...what next? Perhaps an enterprising farmer in east Galway could sue Pete St. John - at least one of his songs is clearly based on a collection of sodden field outside Athenry.....

What they don't put in the Guiness ads........

The weather has well and truly played havoc with the garden. The mild autumn has tricked most of my flowers into a late appearance, only to be greeted by gale force winds and torrential rain. There were a few remaining gladiolas and wallflowers until this weekend - my clematis (Lincoln Star) is still in bloom, as is my shrub fuschia, but they're looking a bit bewildered. Another few weeks and things will look fairly bare.

Snow and sleet predicted for tonight in the north of the country, but we still have not had more than a couple of days frost.

Currently listening to Galway's Friendly FM (107) which is rather good (discovered via Babblogue). It reminds me of Dave Fanning's show before he completely sold out - I think the breaking point for me was when he invited Joe Elliot onto the show to talk for two hours on the 'organic nature of the new album'. And what album would that be? Why, just a Def Leppard greatest hits album - the sort of sonic torture that even John Ashcroft would not subject his Camp X-Ray imates to (unless he was really annoyed). Def Leppard are a timely reminder that, while people may complain about music today (i.e. anything from Louis Walsh), things were a lot worse in the Eighties.

Came across this site via Adactio - hilarious office posters such as this and this.

Scattered Showers................................................ ................... ........ Sunday 10th November 2002

I braved the weather this weekend to travel down to West Cork to visit the photographic studio of Luca Paradisi, an Italian photographer. Luca takes panoramic colour landscapes and black & white medium landscapes, mostly of West Cork, and I think his work is fantastic. He was also very generous with his time and I had nearly as much fun viewing the darkroom and photgraphic equipment in the studio as I had viewing his portfolio. And what are his photographs like? Well, look for yourself. If you are interested in photography, he has quite a good description of the cameras (panoramic, 8x10 and 4x5 medium formats) on his website.

I took advantage of a brief pause in the rain yesterday to stop at Mullinhassig Waterfall (which is curiously omitted from the Bord Failte website info. on Coachford), which is a few miles out of Coachford in Cork. I had a arrived a couple of weeks too late to capture the really vivid colours of Autumn. It is however, a lovely peaceful spot, with a well-maintained forest walk from the road to the Waterfall, which was in full flow, thanks to the rain.

Of course, I came across quite a number of bags of rubbish strewn about the place. Now, I suspect that tourists, both domestic and foreign, do not prepare for a day in the forest by gathering all their rubbish into bags to 'drop off' at the nearest beauty spot. No, it's more likely that some local yokels were the culprits. It's not just a Cork problem - I am sick of coming across rubbish in places like the Burren - a unique and beautiful environment that should be treasured. I'm not just talking about sweet wrappers - there are burnt-out cars, clapped out fridges and the ubiquitous plastic fertilizer bag to be found in every part of the Irish countryside.

As a nation, we still just don't get it.

On the other hand, the introduction of penalty points for speeding has had an instant and dramatic effect (if my own experience in the last week is anything to go by). I've driven about 1000 miles since the introduction, and everywhere I've gone, people were driving at the speed limit and no more. Even the line of cars on their way to Galway on Friday were dutifully driving at 60mph.

Of course, they were still all tailgating but at least it was at 60 rather than 75mph. It's a measure of how extortionate insurance has become that people will only obey the law to avoid even more expensive insurance than the present situation.

More of the same....................... ........................... ................... ........ Thursday 7th November 2002

Rumours that the Irish fishing 'box' - an area around Ireland's coast not open to all EU boats - may be lifted (and let even more Spanish trawlers into Irish territorial waters) have compounded an already bad week for Irish fishermen. Franz Fischler, the EU Commissioner in charge of Fisheries and Agriculture (whose chirpy homepage is here), will be in Ireland next week - he can expect less than a céad míle fáilte from both farmers and fishermen.

By the way, Mark Kurlansky's book (mentioned on Tuesday) on Cod contains dozens of recipes from differnt counteries and different centuries. Excellent stuff. I tried this receipe last night - fabulous.

Mick McCarthy resigned as manager of the Irish football team this week. The game against Switzerland a few weeks ago, which ended in defeat, was marked by seats collapsing in the stadium, the so-called fans booing the team and manager, and Eamonn Dunphy banging on about honesty as if he knew what it meant. Paul Hayward in the Daily Telegraph summed it up in a very perceptive article , entitled "Witch-hunt exposes Irish weakness" today. He pays tribute to the achievements during the summer and how they were treated on thier return to Ireland

As England rolled on towards their own denouement, against Brazil, those of us still left in Japan and Korea filed a single thought about McCarthy's Ireland and their adventures against Germany, Cameroon, Saudi Arabia and Spain. It was that Dublin would be welcoming a group of men who had lost their captain and best player and been dragged through hell's own media inquest only to emerge as a ferocious fighting force: a band of brothers, pre-eminent, for long phases, against the superior armouries of Germany and Spain.

All's changed, changed utterly. Hayward concludes sadly

Mark this down as the week when the Republic chose to behave like everyone else.

Liam Brady was in a bad mood this morning on Morning Ireland. He rulesd himself out of the manager's job because he wouldn't bother "go to Cork" to reconcile with Roy Keane. Ranting rhetorically, he asks

The media has given Roy Keane totally unacceptable power. What's it going to take the next time? Is it going to be the fact that the pasta is not right? I think it's turned into a bad joke.

Indeed it was, Liam.

On TodayFM's Last Word show, David McWilliams and Jim Power (financial commentator and economist respectively) gave jovial Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy a good kicking (of course, the task was made easier by Charlie's absence). McWilliams' assertion was that McCreevy had an accountant's mentality rather than that of an free market idealogue or economist. To McWilliams, that meant that McCreevy's number one priority was to balance the books on a yearly basis rather than taking a long-term view. In the good years, that meant giving money away (e.g. The SSIA, government pension fund and the benchmarking agreements) and in the lean years (i.e. now), it means cutbacks oops..adjustments.

Now, the assertion that McCreevy just got lucky during the boom years and will be found out as a fraud is one that will be proved one way or the other soon enough. One thing is for sure; given that he has failed to curb the rise in public spending (with less than two months to run, it's still nearly 20%), he would not last kissing time in a private company.

But McWilliams and Power underestimate his political nous. By initiating the SSIA and particularly the benchmarking scheme for public service workers, he effectively prevented the opposition parties or special interest groups from using them as issues during the election. The underlying problems haven't been solved, but they were put off long enough for Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats to get back into power. Assuming the governemt runs full term, any painful measures taken nowwill be well forgotten by the time of the next election. Charlie didn't get where he is today by being politically niaive.

On the other hand, Fine Gael made another desperate effort to justify themselves today - they have tabled a motion of no confidence in McCreevy. It's a bit like King Canute tabling a vote of no confidence in the tide.

Gone Fishing.............................................. ................................. ........ Tuesday 5th November 2002

Things don't look so good for the Irish fishing industry. As an Irish Times article noted:-

In its annual review of fishing waters, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) said a collapse in Irish Sea cod numbers must now "be seriously considered". The EU's Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioner, Mr Franz Fischler, has warned that he is ready to push for a complete ban on cod, whiting and haddock, along with major cuts in prawn and plaice catches.

The news was received with predictable anger in Ireland. According to last Thursday's Irish Independent

The chairman of the Irish Fishermen's Organisation, Joe Maddock, claimed theCommission was "sabre-rattling" when it called for zero catches for much of the fishing in the Irish Sea. He estimated it would hit 80 vessels in the North and 70 in the Republic.

while, in Northern Ireland, Iris Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party spelled out the consequence of a total ban

I am extremely concerned at the comments made by EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler, that the virtual shutdown of all key fishing sectors for cod, haddock and whiting is now almost inevitable.This will undoubtedly hit my constituency very hard if not fatally, as many fishermen in Strangford will be wiped out if they can no longer fish the seas for cod.An EU blanket-ban on cod will not only hit fishermen whose main catch is cod, but will also hit those fishing for whiting, haddock and prawns because, according to the EU, their nets threaten to net cod as a by-catch.

The by-catch rule is an important consideration - since cod are caught in nets even if the fishermen are looking for other species, a total ban is likely. Franz Fischler is already unpopular with Irish farmers because of his proposals to reform farm subsidies (otherwise known as a attempt to introduce Irish and French farmers to market realities) - it looks like he will be just as popular with our fishermen. There is already a lingering resentment amongst fishermen in Ireland who feel that access to Irish fishing waters was the real price for joining the EU (or EEC as it was in 1972).

A female code forty inches long produces 3 million eggs in a spawning - a cod fifty inches long can produce 9 million eggs...If each female cod in a lifetime of million of eggs produces two juveniles that live to be sexually mature adults, the population is stable, so writes Mark Kurlansky in his fascinating book called simply "Cod" which outlines the history of Cod fishing (including an interesting theory that Basque fishermen discovered North America before Columbus while fishing and drying cod off Newfoundland - being canny, they kept the secret of the continent and its fish to themselves).

If ever there was a fish made to endure, it is the Atlantic cod - the common fish. But it has among its predators man - an openmouthed species greedier than cod. Kurlansky's book describes how the best efforts of Canada, Iceland and Europe have combined to force cod to the brink of extinction. He notes that an 1989 UN study showed thatit cost about 92 billion dollars to operate the global fishing fleets, but that the same fleet only generated 70 billion dollars in revenue.The rest is made up of subsidies by governements. In a desperate effort to recoup costs, fishing fleets have also gone after immature and breeding stock, depleting future generations of fish.

Kurlansky ends his book by commenting that it is harder to kill off fish than mammals. But after 1000 years of hunting Atlantic cod, we know that it can be done.

qIt would be a shame if the only place that one could see cod in Ireland was the aquarium in Galway, where there is a small shoal of cod kept in a two storey tank.

In the words of Commissioner Fischler "The economic, social and ethical implications of failing to prevent the disappearance of such an important food resource as cod would be very serious indeed".

There's no business like........................................................................ Sunday 3rd November 2002

This year, Ireland did not participate in the Eurovison Song contest. Thank God. Alas, the respite was but brief. This year, not only will Ireland field a contestant, but RTE will drag out the process of choosing that person over six months, by running a Popstars-type TV show, called You're A Star. Basically, a bunch of showbiz wannabes will audition before a panel of judges who, through a process of humiliation and sneering, will whittle the group down to the three who would walk over their dying grannies in order to further their careers. And who is on the panel of judges ? Well, there's Phil Specter's Phil Collins, and there's ....alright, I give up. It's Phil bloody Coulter actually. I can't be the only one that thought Phil was already dead. Alongside Phil is Kerry Katona, who used to be in Atomic Kitten - in fact, their rise in popularity and major record sales seem to coincide with Kerry's departure. Probably just a coincidence. She's married to the portly one in Westlife (Pudgy Spice), so you'd think she'd hear enough crap at home. The last member is Darren Smith, who is (according to the programme's website) a famous music publicist - in other words, someone who was paid to say he liked anything.

RTE have been subjecting us to trailers for this stuff all week - it seems that Darren is the bad guy (it seems a bit unfair to the contestants that they will have to take the worst shit from someone whose occupation is photocopying press releases), Kerry is the enthusiastic and supportive one, and Phil is the inscrutable one. Wait until he starts regaling them with tales of how his version of The Bells of the Angelus was the breakout hit of 1986 (well, the album was).

Viewers get to vote on the last 8 contestants. I don't understand where all the contestants come from. Usually, Irish people never sing when they're sober. I was in a shopping centre yesterday, and a lissom young lassie was desperately trying to interest kids in a portable karaoke machine. Not a bit of it, though I noticed all the checkout assistants in Tesco's nearby were singing "Hit Me Baby One More Time" over and over again.[When is George Bush going to extend his axis of evil to countries that indiscriminately manufacture karaoke machines? South Korea, Taiwan, I'm looking at both of you].

As if to whet our appetite for the show, RTE showed a "greatest hits" clip of past Eurovision winners. If ever a phrase deserved to be in inverted commas, that was it. There was a simply shocking clip of Linda Martin bawling out "Why Me" dressed in what looked like the remains of a freshly-killed sofa. She wasn't the only one screaming that phrase on the night. There was also a pretty disturbing clip of Johnny Logan, wearing a white suit straight out of Logan's Run.

Johnny may be keeping a low profile in Ireland but he is, in pop parlance, very big in Europe, particularly in places like Finland. Finnish TV is fairly poor - lots of talk shows and local versions of shows that are familiar, though not in a good way. Let's just say that hell is not other people; it is other peoples' versions of "The Lyrics Board". It is in this rich media environment that Johnny plies his wares. How many more times can he sing "What's Another Year"? It is not so much flogging a dead horse as going into a knackers yard and flailing about indiscriminately.

Maybe I'm just biased - I've been writing this while listening to Dad Rock on Today FM - lots of Zeppelin, Bowie, Neil Young and Nirvana. The Official site of Eurosong (the the Eurovision is now called) is here and a list of Irish entries in the Eurovision contest every year since 1965 can be found here. In the words of Mr. Kurtz, "The horror, the horror...".

Northern Ire.......................................................................... Saturday 2nd November 2002

A couple of events occurred during the week relating to Northern Ireland that were more interesting for what was not said about them. The first was at the Bloody Sunday tribunal - General Robert Ford was the second highest-ranking officer in the British Army in Northern Ireland at the time of Bloody Sunday and he had written a then-secret memo suggesting a robust method of crowd control. As described in Wednesday's Irish Independent

The now 78-year-old General Sir Robert Ford, commander of the land forces in the North in January 1972, told the Bloody Sunday inquiry that he suggested the best way to help maintain law and order was to "shoot selected ringleaders" among the Bogside's stone-throwing rioters - dubbed the Derry Young Hooligans (DYH).

He claims that his suggestion was never sanctioned. Gen. Ford further suggested that weapons be adapted to fire smaller bullets so that they would be less lethal. As described in this RTE article,

He suggested that .22 rounds should be used instead of the standard 7.62 millimetre rounds because they would be what he called "marginally lethal".

(I suppose a small bullet in the head would be marginally less lethal than a large bullet, but it would still be fatal. (As an idea, it was like a lighthouse in the Bog of Allen. Brilliant but useless). Naturally, this memo attracted much comment. What was not analysed at all was the fact that shooting protesters and rioters was pretty much par for the course for the British Army throughout the colonies, particulary in Africa. What is shocking about Gen. Ford's testimony is that this policy was acceptable as long as it was done to *Johnny Foreigners" far away from home, preferably out of sight of the media.

The other event was the conviction of an active Sinn Fein member (Sean Kind )who was arrested with the rest of an Active Service Unit on their way to maim someone in Co. Cork. They were armed with both guns and clubs. Since the IRA are supposed to be on ceasefire, surely this is another example of a breach. The IRA is also supposed to have accepted the rule of law in the Republic. Not always, it seems. Strangely enough, Sinn Fein had no comment to make. Even more strangely, none of the other parties in Northern Ireland seems to be too bothered about it either. Even so, if Gerry, Martin, Mitchell and the rest of the party expect to be taken at their word that Sin Fein is a purely political party, surely this sort of thing must be officially condemned by the leadership?

There was lots of other stuff happening in Northern Ireland last week - now that there is no Assemby, politicians are making speeches everywhere - a good summary can be found on the Letter To Slugger O'Toole website.

It is 75 years since 26 sailors drowned in Cleggan Bay in Connemara during storms, and a rembrance ceremony, including the erection of a Celtic Cross, took place last week, notes the Galway Advertiser [Which is not on their website]. More details of the disaster, written by a descendant of a survivor of the Cleggan Bay Disaster, can be found here. Among those who particpate were the family of a young man lost a few weeks ago and whose body has not been recovered. As I write this late on Saturday night, the wind is whistling at gale force outside, ad the Atlantic is even more inhospitable than ever. Let's hope all boats make safe harbour tonight.




(c) north atlantic skyline 2002
The blog is updated once a week, usually at the weekend. More often if the cows are milked early.