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Life in the frontline can be tough for trophy homeowners



Date Published: {J}

When Pat Kenny told us that the Frontline would be a different sort of current affairs show, he wasn’t joking – but even he must be surprised to find his own financial situation under infinitely greater scrutiny than that of the nation at large.

First Jack O’Connor – a man who could hardly be deemed to be living anywhere near the breadline himself, despite his socialist credentials – raised the issue of Pat’s ‘trophy home’ in Dalkey before apologising for talking what Pat termed ‘crap’.

Funnily enough he never apologised for talking it so many times before.

But then Alan O’Brien broke loose from the Frontline audience to wade into Pat on his wages and his big house and how the nation might be able to get rid of Mary Hanafin but there’s no chance of shifting Mr Kenny because he’s not up for re-election.

He did seem to concede in the course of his rant that Pat was worth a salary of somewhere in the region of €300,000, which is not far off half of what Pat now takes home ever since he took a 35 per cent cut from his high of €950,000.

Pat, in fairness, let him rant to his heart’s content and came out smelling of roses after his retort that everyone’s opinion was welcome on the Frontline, proving that he remains the coolest head in the tightest of corners.

And maybe stony-broke Ireland can no longer afford the luxury of a €900,000 or €600,000 presenter, but this is a lot better than Questions & Answers where there was as much chance of a real good row as there would be of late drink at the DUP annual conference.

Alan O’Brien is clearly a man with issues, but he might feel a lot better in himself now that he got quite a bit off his chest. Certainly Mary Hanafin has reason to be grateful because suddenly the threat of cuts to social welfare was wiped off the Frontline agenda.

Pat Kenny is perfectly entitled to put the tough questions to whomsoever he feels like; the problem now is that he is having to answer a growing amount of his own. And sometimes shooting the messenger isn’t off limits after all.

Gerry Ryan – that voice of the working classes and idol of the bored housewives – found himself strangely out of touch with both when he refused for so long to take a wage cut. See, it’s not just politicians who can occasionally be accused of living life in an ivory tower.

We’d all love to be dropping in on Bono – preferably from a height and attached to a large boulder – or hanging out with Gerald and Lisa, if only to prove that money can’t buy you everything.

But we’re not Premiership footballers or rock stars – or hacks for the Sunday Independent for that matter – so we have a pint which we pay for in our local pub and go home to our houses that do not boast a €1 million strip of wasteland to one side of it.

Pat Kenny is a fine broadcaster and, despite the ratings to date, the Frontline is a massive improvement on Q&A – and not only because of the unique style of audience participation.

But it’s hard to align questions on social welfare cuts with life in a plush Dalkey pile, even if it was paid for through the good times on the back of blood, sweat and tears shed in the radio and television studios of Montrose.

Alan O’Brien may never become the poster boy of the recession generation – he’s more likely to end up as a “Where Are They Now?” trivia question after his 15 minutes is over – and his outburst may have been well over the top.

But if you’re going to deliver the punches, you must learn to roll with a few too – because in these straitened times, the messengers can be up for a bullet as well.

Customer service has had its chips

The Restaurants Association of Ireland has warned that over 20,000 jobs are at risk in the sector.

The Association says 80 per cent of its members are losing money and one in three restaurants could close in the next six months with a potential loss of €700m to the economy.

Well they better get the news fast to Basil Fawlty, who is alive and well as masquerading as a restaurant manager in the heart of Galway.

We’ll spare his blushes and those of his restaurant by not naming them (this time) but if he reads this, he’d do well to rethink his views on customer service.

A week or so ago, four of us were out for dinner and like many in these changing times, we opted for the Early Bird menu with two courses for €19 – not a fortune but hardly a giveaway either.

One of the menu choices was a steak with mash.

Asked how I’d like this steak, I was told I could either have it medium or well done. But my request for medium to well done was out of the question – it could only be medium or well done. A further brush off the grill to take one of the pre-cooked mediums up to the next level was a step too far.

As to the possibility of changing the mash for chips – hardly an astonishing request given that chips were on the menu as well, and are hardly an unusual accompaniment to steak – that was also a non-runner. The steak – either medium or well but nowhere in between – came with mash and not with chips. You could have chips if you paid for them, but then they came in addition to the mash as opposed to instead of it.

And it wasn’t that they didn’t have chips – it did come with a battered fish of unknown origin whose life look like it ended from natural causes, given the withered size of it.

This might seem like a personal rant but it’s more down to the sense of frustration that such appalling customer service is still to be found in a city that depends on tourists to survive.

In fairness, it was an isolated case and it also explained why this restaurant had six other customers while its adjoining neighbour – where we’d actually wanted to go, if the truth was known – had a minimum 30 minute wait for a table on a wet Sunday night.

The fact that the meal was the worst I’ve ever been served – and there have been some bad ones in the past – was, pardon the pun, the icing on the cake.

And it didn’t seem to come as a huge shock to the manager that I was refusing to pay for it. He looked like a man who’d been down this road once or twice before.

We won’t be going back there but I’m sure that won’t bother the management. What would worry me more is if we’d been visitors to Galway and that this shoddy approach was our first impression of the city.

Galway has many wonderful restaurants to suit every taste and pocket – a point in hand is that the friendliest, most efficient waitress in the entire country is Brid, who works in Rodeo on Quay Street – and it is not right for one bad egg to spoil it for the rest.

As Early Bird menus go, €19 for two courses is not a freebie – in most European cities that would constitute an average price for which you’d be entitled to expect good food and proper service.

We hear so much about how the hospitality business is being hurt by the downturn in our economic circumstances – but frankly service like this would bring the whole thing crashing down a whole lot faster than the property bubble could even dream of.

Sports News Archive

O Fatharta goal puts Leitir M—r on cloud nine!



Date Published: {J}

Leitir Mór 2-14

Westport 2-13

(after extra time)

Declan Tierney atTuam Stadium

THERE is much greater satisfaction to be derived from winning a gripping encounter than prevailing in a rout. The expressions of the faces of the Leitir Mór players after this cracking Connacht intermediate club football final bore testament to that.

As darkness drew close at Tuam Stadium on Sunday, the South Connemara side could scarcely believe their good fortune as they edged out an equally wonderful Westport side in a match that had everything.

Some well taken scores, crucial goals, fantastic saves and a nailbiting finish evoked every emotion possible from the near 1,000 spectators who witnessed a match full of more twists and turns than they would find on a Gaeltacht road.

It was not surprising that Leitir Mór players, management and supporters were absolutely ecstatic after the match because apart from winning the prized provincial crown, they knew full well they could equally have lost it.

In fact, it was Leitir Mór who forced extra time to be played when Ferdia Breathnach scored a last gasp equaliser in injury time – they knew they had gotten out of jail and were relieved that they still had two 10 minute periods to prove themselves.

And that they did. Their hero of the day, Patrick Mark O Fatharta, really came into his own and scored the crucial goal three minutes in the second period of extra time to give his side a two point cushion.

O Fatharta, listed amongst the substitutes on the programme, played the full game at corner forward and contributed a tally of 1-7 and was ultimately the difference between the sides and his valiant efforts have put Leitir Mór within an hour of appearing in Croke Park.

However, even though his tonic goal late in the match proved the crucial score as far as his side was concerned, there was still plenty of wind left in the Westport sails and they had at least four chances of either making a draw of it or winning it for themselves.

If O Fatharta was doing the business up front, then so too was goalkeeper Eoghan O Conghaile who pulled off two incredible saves – the most crucial one coming in the dying seconds when Westport seemed odds on to snatch victory.

The Westport full forward Damien Keane had crept inside the Leitir More full back line and had a goal at his mercy only for O Conghaile to approach from his line and smother the kick. The sighs of relief from the Leitir Mór supporters were palpable.

While Leitir Mór looked like winning the match on several occasions, there were as many times when they appeared to be heading across the Corrib potless. It was an incredible match, full of intensity and excitement and was played at a blistering place throughout.

On occasions, Leitir Mór’s over elaboration threatened to be their undoing but they compensated with some brilliant patches of play – and particularly late on when it counted most.

Leitir Mór had the better start, looked comfortable when they held a four point lead during the first half and ended up having to summon up all their reserves to force extra time.Through Antaine O Griofa and Cristoir O Flatharta, they won the midfield exchanges throughout the first half but yet there was only a limited supply of ball reaching their forwards with the Westport backs marking very tightly and successfully.

County player Fiachra Breathnach moved from full forward closer to midfield and this had an immediate impact with Leitir Mór scoring four points in a five minute spell to lead by 0-7 to 0-3. Ferdia Breathnach, Daithi MacDonnchadha and Patrick Mark O Fatharta all finding the range.But this advantage was short lived with Leitir Mór relinquishing a lot of possession needlessly and it was one of these blunders which led to Lee Keegan finding the net for Westport in the 29th minute which actually gave them the lead at the break with Philip Keegan having earlier scored two points from play.

With Westport leading by 1-5 to 0-7 going into the second half, the sides were level twice before substitute Eamon O Lionsigh found the net having been on the field a mere four minutes. It came from a move involving Daithi MacDonnchadha and Fiachra Breathnach and put Leitir Mór into a two point lead.

Things were not going great for Westport who saw a couple of good scoring chances being wasted and then wing back Brian Higgins being sent off for an after tackle foul. With a Leitir Mór victory seemingly on the cards, Westport corner back Liam Joyce turned the game on its head with a goal the start of three minutes of injury time – putting the Galway intermediate champions a point in arrears again.

When Ferdia Breathnach scored a long range equaliser for Leitir Mór, it was no more than they deserved – neither did Wesport deserve to leave Tuam with a victory in such a last gasp manner.

It was to extra time and again Leitir Mór were guilty of hemorrhaging a lot of good possession as they stayed one point in arrears at the end of the first period, 2-11 to 1-13 in favour of Westport.It was Patrick Mark O Fatharta’s goal three minutes into the second period which sealed the match for Leitir Mór although they did have to endure some agonising moments as Westport sought a winner or at worst an equaliser but it was not to be.

Eoghan O Conghaile, Coilin O Hogain, Seosamh Seoige, Ciaran Bairead, Tomas O Griofa, Antaine O Griofa, Cristoir O Flatharta, Daithi MacDonnchadha, Patrick Mark O Fatharta, Eanna O Cathain and Fiachra Breathnach were the heroes of this 80 minutes of inspirational football from both sides.

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Sports News Archive

Clear And Present Danger comes to IrelandÕs shores



Date Published: {J}

I have to admit that my knowledge of the Colombian cocaine cartels comes from films like Clear And Present Danger – with Harrison Ford playing CIA agent Jack Ryan battling some spectacularly evil people indeed.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the cartels might become central to the Irish drugs trade – but that was the extraordinary link posed by RTE Crime Correspondent Paul Reynolds in a riveting lecture to NUI Galway Law Society last week.

He gave a frightening glimpse into the dark world of drugs – a €5 million per day trade in Ireland. And, he said, the gangs have gone truly international – with nine Irish criminal gangs operating on the Continent forming alliances with the Turks, who are the middlemen to supplying heroin to Europe.

“Irish criminals are doing direct deals for cocaine with Colombian cartels,” Reynolds told the audience.

“We should be worried about the amount of drugs coming in. €5million per day is what the market is worth . . . that is some business to go into. There is €5 million to be made in the business every day . . . the amount of money that can be made is staggering.”

He said that 50kilos of heroin bought for €1 million, would mean that a drugs gang would make €10 million. That was a “hell of a return” and explained why they were prepared to fight and kill to retain control, or to oust others.

The result was the type of criminal feuds which were now going on in a number of centres around the country, while the diversity of drugs now on offer – including the so-called ‘businessman’s drug’, cocaine – meant that drugs had infected all areas of society, though the neighbourhoods which had been devastated were usually the deprived ones.

The devastation was not confined to poorer areas, he said. Drugs gangs knew that if they were dealing with people from the business and professional classes, that ‘mummy or daddy would pay-up’, or the gangs would shoot their sons and daughters who were using cocaine and were in debt to the gangs.

Reynolds said in some cases, it was not an exaggeration to say the gangs were better armed than the Gardaí, and guns were often used as a sort of ‘sweetener’ in a drugs deal. The international suppliers frequently just put in a few guns with the shipment, and these were later on the streets – with the current favourite appearing to be the Glock, which could fire 16 single rounds, or bursts.

“I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that criminals are better armed than the Gardaí,” said Reynolds, who added that the paramilitary arsenal had also seeped into the drugs trade.

The use of drugs by hitmen, said Reynolds, meant that you now had gunmen who had no inhibitions, no reservations, who had become dehumanised. The cold-blooded shooting of a number of absolutely innocent people had shown the scale of the aggression and dehumanisation in the modern hitman, who was very often in the teens or twenties and high on drugs.

He warned that drug dealers and hitmen could be a sort of celebrity in the eyes of young people who were uneducated, abused, unemployed and had no future. The gang members were the ones with the flash cars, the girlfriends, the big houses, the drugs, the guns.

There was also the danger of very young kids being recruited as “baby dealers and boy soldiers”. He said one youngster picked up by Gardaí in Limerick was carrying a shotgun which was bigger than himself. Many of the individuals now going into the drugs business were “young . . . going straight in at the top, violent, highly unstable, and more dangerous because they have access to guns”.

The background causes of crime increase were population increase, poverty, poor education, drugs, marginalisation of certain areas of cities and towns, an education system which often meant that youngsters at 12 could not read or write, alcohol abuse – with 80% of all crime being related in some way to alcohol abuse.

He said drugs crime needed a societal response – there must never be a sort of half-acceptance of a level of crime and violence. We had not seen a repeat of the outrage that manifested itself when Veronica Guerin was murdered. Anyone who wanted to see the effects not just on gang members killing each other, but ordinary people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, should look up the website

On the issue of sentencing, Reynolds said that in his opinion, there seemed to be reluctance on the part of judges to hand down the type of long sentences which the Government had expected when mandatory minimum sentences were being set.

Asked how society might tackle the growth of gangland drugs crime, Reynolds said that we had to have a response by society. We also had to come up with radical solutions – we probably had to start with education, but in a way that would tackle deprivation in communities.

No society should take a resource like its schools and open them at 9 in the morning and close them again at 3 in the afternoon. After school, they might, for instance, be voluntarily manned and used as centres for doing homework, for games, for kids socialising, for keeping them off the streets and out of danger, but with discipline to ensure they had a responsibility as well for their actions.

Society should be really radical and feed those kids, if necessary, in the evening. In many cases, if they were let on to the streets, they were in danger of being out all night, of going home to a home where there was no one, where there was alcohol or drugs abuse, where they might be abused themselves . . . the school could provide a place of safety.

If necessary, they should be able to sleep there on mattresses on the floor and then a group of ‘super cleaners’ should be brought in at seven in the morning to have the place ready to be a school again when 9am came. That was the kind of radical action that was needed in the longer term.

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Sports News Archive

Santa shows up early for î Brolch‡in as Greens wring concession from FF



Date Published: {J}

Well, it just shows – you never know when your luck might turn in this game of politics. Last June, after a Local Elections defeat, the political future of Niall Ó Brolcháin looked bleak indeed, but now he is the Green Party nominee to fill a Seanad vacancy and the odds are stacked-up in his favour.

You see, only TDs and Senators can vote to fill two vacancies in the Seanad – and a deal was worked out between the Government parties (Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and former PDs), under which Fianna Fáil will take one of the vacancies, and the other will go to the Green Party nominee (in this case, the nominee chosen at the weekend is Ó Brolcháin).

All going according to plan, one seat will go to Fianna Fáil’s Councillor James Carroll, of Drogheda, who is being groomed as a possible FF candidate in Louth (to join Minister Dermot Ahern), now that Seamus Kirk TD has been elevated to Ceann Comhairle.

The plan is that the other Senate vacancy will go to Ó Brolcháin . . . it was the seat formerly held by Labour’s Alan Kelly, who had to resign the Seanad when he won a seat in the European Parliament in June.

The Greens wrung the deal from Fianna Fáil as part of the renegotiated Programme for Government, and, barring some extraordinary electoral accident, Ó Brolcháin should take his place in the Seanad after the vote by TDs and Senators on December 14.

Speaking to Ó Brolcháin at the weekend, he said he was delighted and honoured to be nominated for The Green Party. Understandably, he was a little bit cautious about any celebrations – just yet. After all, this was the man tipped widely to be a TD in 2007.

Ó Brolcháin had 10 years as a Green councillor on Galway City Council and stood in two General Elections in Galway West – where he got just over 2,000 first preferences in 2002 and over 3,000 in 2007. He was heavily tipped as a hot favourite to take a Dáil seat only a month prior to the 2007 General Election in an opinion poll produced by TG4.

That forecast he would be in the shake-up for the two final seats with Frank Fahey (FF), and Noel Grealish (PD).But, he survived to just the 9th count where he had 4,300 votes and was then eliminated.

At the time, it looked possible that, if he kept slogging away as a local councillor in Galway, he might be in with a shout as a potential Green TD. After all, Michael D Higgins (Labour) stood in the same constituency in 1969, ’73 and ’77 before he was first elected to the Dáil in 1981.

 Higgins lost that seat in 1982 and finally began a run of success as a TD for Galway West right from 1987 to the present day.

However, Ó Brolcháin suffered a colossal reverse for his political aspirations in the Local Elections last June when the Greens sustained an enormous defeat nationally in the Locals.

As a sitting councillor, Ó Brolcháin got just over 700 votes in the West Ward in Galway City. He was seventh in the first preferences but was a long way from the 1,400 quota and lost his elected base, the Galway City Council seat. He has been working since as a full-time official for The Green Party as a parliamentary secretary.

Ó Brolcháin has also been continuing with his constituency work and said at the weekend …. “in this politics business, you never know what’s around the corner. The party did badly in June but I believe it is still very much alive and active around the country and the issues just won’t go away. I would be honoured and delighted if I was elected a Senator.”

In the meantime, if this Government were to last another two years – who knows what changes there might be in Galway West. For instance, would Higgins be standing again? Would Fahey? Would Fine Gael’s Padraic McCormack?


Meanwhile, there was some ‘fighting talk’ in the background at that Fine Gael conference held in Galway last week – and one of the clear targets that emerged was that, as far as they’re concerned, Grealish may be standing as an Independent in the next General Election, but FG regard him as ‘a Government TD’.

Leading the attack was Fine Gael hopeful Councillor Padraig Conneely, who dismissed Grealish as “Independent my ar**”.

He said Grealish and Mary Harney, the last remnants of the Progressive Democrats, had consistently supported the Fianna Fáil-led Government which had led the country into the ruinous financial situation of the past year.

“When it comes to election time I have no doubt that Noel Grealish will have posters up around the place with lines like ‘keep an Independent voice in Galway West’. The fact is that he and Mary Harney have supported this ruinous Fianna Fáil-led administration in every single Dáil vote for years. He is Fianna Fáil in all but name and it is time that this lie was nailed,” Conneely said.

Conneely said that in the past week, for instance, Phil Hogan TD had put down a Fine Gael motion in the Dáil calling for a freeze on all commercial rates in a bid to give retail businesses around the country a chance of survival. But it had been voted down by the Government. So, the ex-PDs, who claimed to be Independents, were nothing of the sort.

“We in Fine Gael on Galway City Council – through people like myself and Councillor Brian Walsh – are involved in discussions here in Galway in a bid to freeze the rates for businesses. Involved in those talks as well are the three ex-PDs who now are supporting Grealish (Cllrs Declan McDonnell, Donal Lyons and Terry O’Flaherty), but in the Dáil, the ex-PDs can support a policy which is the precise opposite.

“It is time that Grealish came clean about precisely where he stands – we intend to make it clear to the electorate that he may call himself an Independent, but in fact he is a ‘Government TD’ like Frank Fahey or Éamon Ó Cuív and it is time he stopped this nonsense about being an Independent. Independent my ar**,” added Conneely.

Meantime, though Grealish has been playing his cards pretty close to his chest on precisely what ‘banner’ he plans to run under in the next General Election, it is quite clear that he plans to run as an Independent – and he has brushed off those approaches from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to join them.In the wake of the PD wipeout in the 2007 General Election, Grealish and Harney were the only two surviving PD Dáil Deputies. Harney kept her post as Minister for Health, while both herself and Grealish have proven rock-solid supporters of the Fianna Fáil-Green-Independents Government. Grealish has become a backbencher with an Independent label, and a considerable ability to get the ear of ministers.

It is hard to gauge precisely where his vote comes from, but Grealish with his 5,800 first preferences in 2007, must have looked carefully at the vote and analysed it when those approaches came to join Fianna Fáil (from Ministers Ó Cuív and Noel Dempsey), and then from some of the top people in Fine Gael who wanted him on their team.

The easier one to rule out must surely have been the approach from Fine Gael. For, though FG are on the up in the opinion polls, all of the Grealish family connections going back for years are in Fianna Fáil. Grealish himself started as a Fianna Fáil Cumann officer when he was in his teens, and, if he joined FG, he would lose a chunk of that support, plus whatever slice of FF support came to him when Bobby Molloy retired. Molloy, after all, had more than 20 years as a Fianna Fáil TD and then 16 years as a PD Dáil Deputy.

Grealish obviously gave a lot longer thought to those approaches to join Fianna Fáil . . . the word is that they would still like to have him on board, but, right now, does he really want to join a party which is running at just over 20% in the opinion polls and which is associated with the economic catastrophe of the past year? FF may be slightly less unpopular right now and they look like – with Green support – they could last a few years yet in office, but the memory of the Local and European Elections drubbing for FF is a little too fresh in the minds of many. Grealish has been keeping his powder dry but he won’t go to Fianna Fáil.

Anyway, they have enough problems in Fianna Fáil with the three likely candidates – Ó Cuív, Fahey and Cllr Michael Crowe – all battling for their own futures and wanting Grealish’s name on the FF ‘slate’ like a hole in the head.

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