News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 1st February 2015

Some 20,000 march in Dublin anti-water protest as a man is arrested & charged

  

Thousands march in protests across the country ahead of Irish Water deadline.

Saturday’s water charges demonstration has brought parts of Dublin to a standstill as protesters converge on the GPO.

A man arrested and charged following an anti-water charge protest in Dublin yesterday afternoon has been released.

The arrest occurred after a group of several hundred anti-water charge protesters broke away from a peaceful march in central Dublin and sought to gain entry to Leinster House.

The man in his 40s was questioned at Irishtown Garda station. He is due in court on February 26th. This was the only arrest during more than 20 anti-water charge protests around the country on Saturday, including events inCork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo and Waterford.

The demonstration in Dublin caused disruptions and led to traffic diversions around O’Connell Street and the Liffey quays as buses and Luas traffic were curtailed and roads closed to traffic.

There were reports of a flare being fired and some pushing and shoving in Dublin, but gardaí outside Leinster House said they were happy with how the demonstration proceeded.

“There was a feeble attempt to pull open the gates but there was no great assault on the place. There was a flare but there was no major incident,” a source said.

According to Garda sources, a man with a camera who had climbed on top of the Dáil gates for a panoramic view of the demonstration slipped and fell inside the railings but was not believed to have been badly hurt.

Estimates of the number of protesters vary, with organisers of the Dublin protests claiming around 20,000 people attended, while Gardaí at the scene said the number was less than half that. The Garda press office declined to give an estimate.

Protesters had assembled at various locations around Dublin city including Christ Church Cathedral, Rialto and Connolly and Heuston stations, before marching along the quays and converging on O’Connell Street from 3pm.

The crowds were addressed by various non-political anti-water charges activists, including one young man who reiterated claims made by Derek Byrne of the Dublin Says No campaign group that President Michael D Higgins was a “parasite”, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the rest of the political establishment.

Several protesters sported “Je suis Derek” signs, with Greek flags also in evidence following anti-austerity party Syriza’s election victory last weekend.

It was one of a number of protests which took place across the country yesterday.

In Cork, an estimated crowd of about 3,500 took to the streets, and similar demonstrations were held in Galway, Waterford and Sligo among other locations.

Protesters unfurled a 2.5 metre flag saying “We won’t pay” above the 13th century King John’s Castle during a march which was held in Limerick earlier.

Local groups

The marches were organised by local groups, as opposed to last December’s gathering outside Government buildings which was overseen by the Right2Water central organising committee and political parties such as the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit.

“I think it’s about the people, there shouldn’t be any political element,” said Siobhán Andrews (44) from Raheny who took part in the Dublin march.

“We’re not sure how we feel about politicians, because we’ve been let down by them a lot . . . Some of them have been supportive but, then again, we don’t know who to trust. If Sinn Féin or whoever gets in, how do we know they’re going to fix the problems?,” she added.

Arklow native Freddie Trevaskis Hoskin disagreed that a chasm is opening up between anti-Government politicians and grassroots protest movements.

“I think that’s a bit of a false dichotomy. I think people are out on the streets on a political issue, on an issue that affects them,” said 21-year-old Trevaskis Hoskin.

“It might not be a politics with a capital P, it might not be high political theory, but it’s actual, on-the-ground politics, which is far more important,” he added.

Following today’s marches, another major protest is being planned for Dublin in March.

‘People are angry’

Meanwhile, Derek Byrne, the water protester who sparked controversy with his verbal assault on President Michael D Higgins, has refused to retract his description of the head of State being a “parasite”.

Mr. Byrne, who took part in today’s protest in Dublin, said: “The people are angry and the people have every right to be angry in this country because the people of this country have been sold out by the so called political leaders,” he told RTÉ radio.

However, he refused to express any contrition for his abuse of the President at a recent protest which saw a visibly angry crowd lock horns with gardaí after his entourage had left.

“As I said, it was regrettable that he was called a ‘midget’,” Mr Byrne said of his own language.

“But I stand by everything else because at the end of the day President Higgins was a man I voted for and was someone that was very outspoken on human rights issues. We have a very serious human rights issue going on in this country at this moment in time and President Higgins has not spoken out for the people.”

The Right2Water campaign, which spearheaded the mass rally in Dublin late last year attended by more than 100,000 people, had urged members of the public to attend the latest protests. However, it distanced itself from the organiser’s.

In a statement, the campaign said: “The campaign against these unjust water charges continues. Last year, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets all over the country, and wrung significant concessions from the Government. “But as we said at the time – people marched for abolition, not concessions.”

Varadkar considers legal means to reduce cost of medicines

   

Ireland pays more for its medicines that other European countries

A spokesperson for the Minister for Health has said he may have to consider using existing legislation to achieve savings in the cost of medicines.

It follows reports in the Sunday Business Post that Leo Varadkar was considering using legislative powers to impose a price cut on pharmaceutical firms.

The newspaper carried out a sample survey of a number of prescription drugs, which found Ireland was paying more for its medicines than other European countries.

The minister’s spokesperson said Mr Varadkar was determined that the State would have the funds to ensure patient access to effective new therapies, and that to do this, savings must be achieved in the existing cost of medicines.
The spokesperson said the minister was keen to do this in cooperation with the industry.

However, the spokesperson said should this not prove possible, all alternatives, including the use of provisions of existing legislation, would have to be considered.

Discussions on a mid-term review of a pricing agreement between the Government and the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, which represents the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland, have been taking place since the final quarter of last year.

Responding to news that the minister was willing to consider using legislative powers to impose price cuts, the IPHA said its members companies had played a major role in assisting the Government in controlling health expenditure.

In a statement, the IPHA said ten separate price reductions had been provided by its member companies in the past seven years, and that savings of €800 million had been delivered between 2006 and 2012.

The IPHA said a further €400 million in savings was set to be delivered under the current supply agreement this year.

It also said these price cuts had occurred in the context of a big increase in medical cards.

Not bad looking woman has worst attendance record in Dail

 

Valerie O’Reilly absent for 37% of meetings in 2014

Valerie O’Reilly, who was described as ‘not bad looking’ by Michael Lowry TD.

Valerie O’Reilly, the “not bad looking” woman at the centre of the Michael Lowry Dail note scandal, had the worst attendance record last year on the State board she is seeking to be re-appointed to.

Ms O’Reilly, Mr Lowry’s former press adviser, received at least €55,000 in fees over five years from the National Transport Authority board to which the controversial TD lobbied Taoiseach Enda Kenny to have her re-appointed.

But the Sunday Independent has discovered that Ms O’Reilly was absent for three of the eight disclosed board meetings in 2014, or 37pc.

No other board member missed as many meetings in 2014 as Ms O’Reilly, who had a far better attendance record in 2013 and 2012. In both years, she missed two out of 12 meetings, or 16pc.

Last week the Sunday Independent revealed how Mr Lowry passed a note to Mr Kenny in the Dail seeking to have Ms O’Reilly re-appopinted to the board of the NTA, ending the note saying: “She’s not bad looking either!”

The note, published by the Sunday Independent, said: “Taoiseach, would you please consider reappointing Valerie O’Reilly to the board of the NTA. A woman, bright intelligent and not bad looking either! Michael Lowry.”

Speaking in the wake of the controversy, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted that the only basis upon which Ms O’Reilly’s request to be re-appointed will be considered based on merit.

Ms O’Reilly, managing director of Unicorn PR, turned down several requests for comment on the controversy from the Sunday Independent.

Despite Government statements that all appointments to state boards are done through the public appointments system, it has emerged that the rules allow ministers scope to appointments “other than strictly in accordance with the process”.

Guidelines issued by Minister Brendan Howlin’s department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) state there are a number of specific exceptions to the rules permissible. Mr Lowry declined to comment on the ongoing controversy when contacted by the Sunday Independent this weekend.

But he has caused some tension within the Government by suggesting the note was given to the Sunday Independent by a Labour member of the coalition.

He said that the note was passed on with the “full knowledge” of Environment Minister Alan Kelly, his constituency rival. Mr Kelly has strongly denied he had anything to do with the note’s surfacing.

However, considerable efforts have been taken to reveal the identity of the person who picked up the note from the Government benches.

Ms O’Reilly has been sitting on the board of the National Transport Authority (NTA) – where members get €11,970 a year in fees – for almost five years. Mr Lowry’s comments on Ms O’Reilly’s “not bad looking” appearance has sparked anger among his female colleagues in the Dáil.

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said she was concerned that such a “shallow view” of women still existed in Irish politics. “Handing a note over in the chamber is very peculiar and the contents, I think, didn’t do her justice,” Ms Corcoran Kennedy told the Irish Independent.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy questioned why Mr Lowry felt it was an appropriate way to lobby the Taoiseach.

“I wonder what type of a relationship he has with the Taoiseach that he can send that type of note,” Ms Murphy said.

“I think it’s done her a serious disservice and you think these type of things are over and then they crop up again.”

Former Fine Gael minister Lucinda Creighton said she believes the exchange between the Taoiseach and Michael Lowry was proof that the “nod and a wink” culture was an “attitude that still persists” throughout Government.

Ms O’Reilly has been running her business, Unicorn Public Relations, for more than a decade and clients include Clerys department store in Dublin and the Irish Heart Foundation.

Before setting up her own company, she worked with Chris Roche Publicity, where she handled various accounts including for Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance.

Mr Lowry is currently facing High Court action over alleged unpaid taxes to the Revenue Commissioner.

Mr Lowry personally approached Mr Donohoe about the reappointment of his former press adviser to a State board. Mr Lowry pulled Mr Donohoe aside outside the Seanad chamber last Wednesday week and informed him “out of courtesy” that he intended to “pass a note to the Taoiseach” seeking the re-appointment of Valerie O’Reilly to the board of the National Transport Authority (NTA).

Later in the Dail, the former minister handed the note to an usher who proceeded to pass it on to Enda Kenny.

NUIG appoints a leading woman as head of equality task force

  

A university forced to pay a lecturer €70,000 for failing to promote her because she was a woman has appointed a leading female academic to help shape its gender equality policies.

NUI Galway has asked Professor Jane Grimson of Trinity College Dublin to head up a new gender equality task force with a remit to help prevent future gender discrimination cases.

Prof Grimson, a computer engineer with a strong commitment to promoting the involvement of women in engineering and technology, is a former Dean of Engineering at TCD and helped establish that college’s Centre for Women in Science and Engineering.

President of NUI Galway Dr Jim Browne said the appointment was sanctioned by the college’s governing authority, which had stressed the need for an external, independent chairperson.

“We fully acknowledge the issues here for NUI Galway and are committed to addressing them. This appointment marks a milestone for the university in tackling gender equality.”

The move to set up a task force followed a ruling by the Equality Tribunal late last year which found in favour of a claim by now retired botany lecturer Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington that she had been unfairly overlooked for promotion for 20 years.

In addition to requiring that Dr Sheehy Skeffington be retrospectively promoted and compensated financially, the tribunal also made strong criticisms about the university’s promotions record and interview process.

Five other female academics who also applied unsuccessfully for promotions in 2009 announced they would be taking legal action against the university and Dr Sheehy Skeffington has donated her compensation payment to help fund their case.

Members of the university’s governing authority were greeted by a student demonstration as they gathered for their meeting yesterday. The students are calling for Dr Sheehy Skeffington’s five colleagues to be automatically promoted.

Rare protected bird shot dead in Kerry

  

Rare protected bird shot dead in Kerry

An investigation has been launched by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, after the young female hen harrier was discoveredThe Gardaí are also investigating the incident.

A protected species

Killing a hen harrier is an offence under the Wildlife Act, as the birds are listed as a protected species. The penalties include significant fines and/or imprisonment.

The bird had been followed by thousands of people online as part of a satellite tracking project run by the NPWS and local community group IRD Duhallow.

Dr. Barry O’Donoghue of the NPWS, who oversaw the satellite tracking project, said it gave people an insight into the life of this bird and her progress.

He said the tracking system showed that the bird visited Meath, Louth, Monaghan and Armagh and rested by the shores of Lough Neagh, before making a long distance journey all the way to the Atlantic cliffs of South County Cork.

The bird stayed there for most of her first winter with a number of other harriers. From these older birds, she would have learned of good hunting places and safe places to spend each night.

In late 2014 she returned to South Kerry, back to the very site where she was born. It seems likely that she might have returned to breed there this summer, but unfortunately her life has been cut short.

A survey of breeding hen harrier reported that 128 to 172 breeding pairs were recorded in 2010. However, the breed has been in decline in recent years due to hill farming, coupled with an increase in forestry.

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