IIlicit payments

Allegations that Bertie Ahern received illicit payments in relation to the controversial Quarryvale development in west Dublin between 1989 and 1992 will almost certainly not be examined at public hearings of the Mahon tribunal before next year's general election.


This follows the announcement by the High Court on 25 July that it will hand down its judgement on 10 October on the application by Cork developer Owen O'Callaghan to stop the tribunal hearings into Quarryvale.

The case was heard over several weeks from April and, as reported in Village, heard a series of extraordinary allegations against a number of prominent individuals, including the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. O'Callaghan has claimed that the tribunal treated him unfairly by withholding details of private interviews it held with his former partner, Tom Gilmartin, whom, he claims, made provably false allegations against him and others. The tribunal released details of the private interviews following an earlier High Court and Supreme Court action.

O'Callaghan has also claimed that the tribunal has been biased in favour of Gilmartin, a claim that was disputed by lawyers for the tribunal. O'Callaghan has sought an order from the court to stop the Quarryvale hearings which opened briefly at Dublin Castle in November 2005. As any decision by the High Court will almost certainly be challenged to the Supreme Court by the losing party, it is unlikely that the tribunal, if it succeeds in defending the application, will open hearings until the spring of 2007 at the earliest. The tribunal will then cease hearings for the general-election campaign, which is expected to be held in May or June next year.

Also in the High Court this week, lawyers for Fitzwilton, the company owned by Tony O'Reilly – which gave former minsiter Ray Burke a payment of £30,000 in 1989 – withdrew its Supreme Court appeal of an order refusing it access to documents from the Mahon tribunal. The appeal was withdrawn following a clarification by lawyers for the tribunal relating to the documentary material upon which its decision to open public hearings into the Fitzwilton payment is based.




McDowell and wall-hopping cops

Michael McDowell is reported to be considering his position on the retirement age for gardaí, which is currently 57 years. As Village pointed out on 20 July, the simple decision to raise the retirement age to 60 would significantly increase the number of serving gardaí.

Senator Mary White, who recently compiled a report on age and ageism, has welcomed the suggestion and recalls that only last year the Minsiter for Justice had rubbished the notion.

"Do we want people between 57 and 60 who, getting on in years, are not in a position to hop over walls and chase burglars?" McDowell asked the Seanad on 30 June 2005.

Mary White wonders if Michael McDowell has really changed his mind and now "recognises the value of knowledge and experience of these [older] people". She says that "an ageist and outmoded way of thinking remains in law for gardaí and other civil servants employed before April 2004".

But does Michael McDowell really think that all current members of the Garda Síochána are able to hop over walls and chase burglars?




Controversial New York mayor in Ireland

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg arrives in Ireland on Friday 28 July to unveil a monument in Ballymote, Co Sligo, remembering Brigadier General Michael Corcoran of the US 69th Infantry Regiment. The controversial Republican mayor who is a close friend of George Bush is the guest speaker at the ceremony honouring the Carrowkeel native.

Michael Bloomberg, who was re-elected mayor of New York in November 2005, will be making a brief visit to Ireland to partake in the event, which takes place at 2.30pm in the town centre and includes a performance by Sligo tenor Michael Lang.

General James Screenan, chief of staff of the Irish defence forces, will also be in attendance. Guest speakers at the event will also include James C Kenny, ambassador of the United States in Ireland.

Michael Corcoran, born in Co Sligo in 1827, was the son of a British Army officer and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. A memorial plaque on Lexington Avenue, New York already honours the war hero, bearing the inscription: "His memory is Sweeney to all men of Irish blood whose name is hallowed as a patriot of all Americans."

He was found nearly dead by his horse and later died in hospital on 22 December 1863.

Nóirín Byrne



Unesco unaware of latest Skellig restoration

Further controversy arose this week over the handling of the archaeological works on Skellig Michael when the world heritage authority told Village they have not received any recent notifications regarding the Office of Public Works (OPW) repairs to the South Peak of the island.

In accordance with its world-heritage status, any restoration work is to be cleared with Unesco and independently monitored. When contacted, the OPW said a Unesco representative visited the site and approved the work some years ago but an exact time could not been given.

Controversy over Skellig Michael emerged when Michael Gibbons, a local archaeologist who worked in the OPW in the past, complained to the department of environment and the OPW that the sacred site is being rebuilt as opposed to being restored. He also complained that proper procedures are not being implemented in line with maintaining its status as a Unesco site.

In photographs provided by Michael Gibbons to Village, he shows what he says are examples of damning work practices by the OPW, with original stone and slating being damaged. The OPW maintains that the work is being carried out with the greatest of expertise and in close cooperation with experienced archaeologists from the Heritage Council.

Jessie Collins



Documenting GAMA

A documentary about the Gama scandal, during which it emerged that Turkish migrant workers were being underpaid by Gama construction, has been made by the Socialist Party. The film, called The Gama strike – a victory for all workers, was launched by the party on 27 July. The documentary follows the story from the party's first discovery of the worker's exploitation to TD Joe Higgins' (pictured) campaign to have the money owed to the workers reimbursed. There are interviews with some of the exploited workers, footage of the strike action and Dáil footage of Joe Higgins' campaign. Gama construction, a Turkish construction company, had been paying Turkish workers here as little as ?2.20 an hour. Gama had worked on a lot of state contracts and the government had previously investigated complaints about the company's practices but had given them the all clear. There is an ongoing court case in Turkey in relation to overtime payments owed to workers.


?More The video is available from www.socialistparty.com (?10)



Development for Clancy Barracks

Planning for a mixed-use development at Clancy Barracks beside Heuston Station was granted by An Bord Pleanála on 17 July. The development of the 19th-century barracks will consist of 750 residential homes, retail and commercial units, including a fitness centre, restaurant, café and pub. The plan also includes a 15-storey 200-bedroom hotel, a chapel and cultural space.

However, An Bord Pleanála ordered the developers to build larger apartments that were more suitable for families. The developers had applied for planning permission for 957 apartments, but the board will only allow 731. They also prevented a block of apartments to provide for more community and amenity space. Although 31 protected buildings will be demolished to make way for the development, 12 of the existing listed buildings will be retained and refurbished. An Tasice had taken an appeal to An Bord Pleanála when Dublin City Council granted permission last year. HKR are the architects for the development. They have designed other large residential units in Dublin city like Smithfield Market and Gallery Quay in the docklands. The developers are Florence Properties and Chanterwork Properties. Florence Properties bought the site from the Department of Defence for 25 million in 2002. At the time the land was offered to Dublin City Council but the deal never came through.

Originally known as Islandbridge Barracks, it was taken over by the army in December 1922 and renamed in 1942 in memory of Peadar Clancy, a republican prisoner shot dead on 21 November 1920.




SSIA savers plan to keep up the habit

Irish people with SSIA accounts intend to spend nearly half of their savings on further savings, pensions and investments according to figures released by the CSO in July from the Quarterly National Household Survey. Just over 10 per cent of savings will go on debt repayment, 31 per cent on consumer items and 12 per cent on other items.

Over two-thirds of SSIA account-holders were making the maximum SSIA payment (?254) in the last quarter of 2005. Those saving at this level intend to commit more than 50 per cent of the matured SSIA funds to further savings, investment and pensions whereas those saving the lowest amount, between ?1 and ?49 per month, will commit little over a quarter to further savings. There are variations in amounts saved according to where people live. Over 40 per cent of the population aged 21 and aged over 70 in Dublin and the southeast have SSIA accounts and 70 per cent of them are contributing the maximum, whereas only one-third of the population in the border area have SSIAs and less than 56 per cent of them are contributing the maximum.

Almost 73 per cent of those classified as "professionals" had an SSIA account in the last quarter of 2005. One-in-10 people with SSIAs intend to take a foreign holiday. ?More cso.ie

Sara Burke

Expenditure items                     Total

Consumer items                                         31.2%

Savings, pensions and investment         46.1%

Debt repayment                                          10.3%

Other items                                                   12.4%



Pope's praise for the wrong St Bridget

Pope Benedict XVI lavished fulsome praise on St Bridget recently. He said she was "the co-patroness of Europe. This exemplary wife and mother went on pilgrimage, when she was left a widow, to the holy places of Christianity."

Unfortunately he was not speaking about our St Bridget. The one he was talking of was a Swede and she lived from 1303-1373. At the age of 14 she married Ulf Gudmarsson, a nobleman. They had eight children. When her husband died, she founded the religious order generally known as the Brigittines. She went to Rome in 1346, and died there on 23 July 1373. She left writings that recount her mystical experiences. In 1371, two years before her death, St Bridget undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Pope Boniface IX canonised her in 1391 and Pope John Paul II proclaimed her co-patroness of Europe in 1999.



Duff's surprise move to Newcastle

Damien Duff's decision to sign for Newcastle last weekend came as a surprise. Yet, considering his alternatives, the move makes sense from Duff's point of view. He had to get out of Chelsea, who look likely to play a wingless diamond midfield in many matches next season. Liverpool wanted him to play on the right and, at 27, Duff has had enough of playing out of position. Spurs manager Martin Jol likes squad rotation and buys a new left-winger every few months. Also had Duff joined Tottenham, he would have killed off Andy Reid's career at the club.

Any top player who joins Newcastle these days will be suspected of following the money – as Sven told the sheikh, "They pay the salary even more than Real Madrid." But if money was Duff's primary motivation, he would sit out the final year of his contract at Chelsea and move next summer on a Bosman, netting a large signing-on fee. Lastly, it's been suggested his choice of Newcastle shows a lack of ambition because they never win anything. But after three seasons at Chelsea, Duff already has medals. He knows that although footballers are always saying that silverware and trophies are the ultimate aim of their career, the truth is there's nothing to match the sheer animal thrill of just playing – and Newcastle will play him every week.

After Duff's move, the only Irishmen playing Champions League football are Steve Finnan and John O'Shea. But that's still more Champions League players than we had in 2001, when we qualified for the World Cup ahead of Holland. In those days Roy Keane was the only European star and the only other Irishmen with any hope of Champions League football with their then club were the Newcastle pair Shay Given and Andy O'Brien.

You don't have to be at a successful, trophy-winning club side to play well in international football. Duff played for Blackburn in 2002, but that didn't stop him being our best player in Japan and Korea. The Greek European Champions of 2004 all played for second-tier Euro clubs like Bremen and Atletico Madrid or the big three sides in Greece, who are Champions League cannon fodder. It would be hard to argue that side was any more talented than our own. However, one difference between Greece and Ireland is that their manager, Otto Rehhagel, had 30 years of top-level experience when he took the job.




Public denied access to public carpark

A landowner in Brittas Bay has erected a barrier on a laneway to Magheramore Beach preventing cars from accessing the public car-park at the beach. The laneway is the only access to the beach and the landowner, who purchased the land around the laneway two years ago, allowed the public access until now.

Although people can still walk down to the beach the walk now takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Also beach-goers are now forced to park their cars on the main road which is already narrow and contains some dangerous bends.

The landowner says that he has erected the barrier to prevent illegal dumping on the land. Last year over 50 bags of domestic waste, along with fridges, cookers and a burnt-out car were dumped on land beside the beach and some of the waste strayed onto Magheramore. However local Sinn Féin councillor Eamon Long says he is not surprised that the barrier has been erected: "We were tipped-off about this 18 months ago even before the dumping – this was always the plan."

Eamon Long and fellow Sinn Féin councillor John Brady are calling on Wicklow County Council to compulsorily purchase the laneway to maintain public access. John Brady says they are now "fearful that the landowner will stop pedestrians". They held the first protest at the site on 23 July and handed a petition with 650 signatures into Wicklow County Council in the last week. They say this will the "first of many protests".

The previous owner, developer Niall Mellon, offered to sell the beach to the council for £1 in 2002 in return for planning permission for a private home on the 23-acre site.