Jul 28, 2005

IRA ends armed capaign

This is the statement issued by the IRA today announcing an 'end to the armed campaign'.
They were on official ceasefire for a few years.
What about the "other side" now? It seems clear that the Unionist parlamlitaries are not inactive either. When will they issue a similar statement?

Thursday July 28, 2005

The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign.
This will take effect from 4pm this afternoon.

All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms.

All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means.

Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.

The IRA leadership has also authorised our representative to engage with the IICD [Independent International Commission on Decommissioning] to complete the process to verifiably put its arms beyond use in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible. We have invited two independent witnesses, from the Protestant and Catholic churches, to testify to this.
The Army Council took these decisions following an unprecedented internal discussion and consultation process with IRA units and volunteers.

We appreciate the honest and forthright way in which the consultation process was carried out and the depth and content of the submissions.

We are proud of the comradely way in which this truly historic discussion was conducted.

The outcome of our consultations show very strong support among IRA volunteers for the Sinn Féin peace strategy.

There is also widespread concern about the failure of the two governments and the unionists to fully engage in the peace process. This has created real difficulties.

The overwhelming majority of people in Ireland fully support this process.

They and friends of Irish unity throughout the world want to see the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement.

Notwithstanding these difficulties our decisions have been taken to advance our republican and democratic objectives, including our goal of a united Ireland.

We believe there is now an alternative way to achieve this and to end British rule in our country.

It is the responsibility of all volunteers to show leadership, determination and courage. We are very mindful of the sacrifices of our patriot dead, those who went to jail, volunteers, their families and the wider republican base.

We reiterate our view that the armed struggle was entirely legitimate.

We are conscious that many people suffered in the conflict. There is a compelling imperative on all sides to build a just and lasting peace.

The issue of the defence of nationalist and republican communities has been raised with us. There is a responsibility on society to ensure that there is no re-occurrence of the pogroms of 1969 and the early 1970s. There is also a universal responsibility to tackle sectarianism in all its forms.

The IRA is fully committed to the goals of Irish unity and independence and to building the Republic outlined in the 1916 Proclamation.

We call for maximum unity and effort by Irish republicans everywhere.

We are confident that by working together Irish republicans can achieve our objectives.

Every volunteer is aware of the import of the decisions we have taken and all Óglaigh are compelled to fully comply with these orders. "There is now an unprecedented opportunity to utilise the considerable energy and goodwill which there is for the peace process.

This comprehensive series of unparalleled initiatives is our contribution to this and to the continued endeavours to bring about independence and unity for the people of Ireland.

Jul 13, 2005

Lower taxes in Ireland for low paid.

RTE Business - Today in the press: "Tax burden on low-paid is 'lowest here' - Ireland levies the lowest tax burden on low-paid workers among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, a new report from the organisation revealed yesterday. The Irish Independent says that the report on the euro area economies states that the labour market structure in the zone needs to be overhauled if more jobs are to be created. However, Ireland comes out on top in key areas such as the tax burden and social security contributions, which in some countries have acted as a disincentive for employers to hire more workers. The report also backs the stance of the European Central Bank on interest rates as the bank bids to fend off political pressure for lower eurozone interest rates. The OECD's statement that it would be reasonable to leave rates at 2% coincided with statements by ECB Governing Council members that high oil prices posed inflation risks and interest rates were at appropriate levels.

Jul 10, 2005

County Mayo - Gas pipeline protests

Focus: 'Tell Shell to go to hell' - Ireland - Times Online

Five men are in prison for blocking access to Shell - who want to build an onshore gas pipeline.

Ten days ago the men now known as the Rossport Five refused to obey a court order that would allow Shell to run part of a gas pipeline from the Corrib field 70km offshore through their land to a processing plant 9km inland. Citing safety concerns, these most unlikely of prisoners were put under lock and key in Cloverhill prison in Dublin, where they will remain until they promise not to block the work.

Since the inception of the Corrib project, a small, anti-gas group had been a persistent thorn in Shell’s side, but the imprisonment of the five men has transformed the protesters in the eyes of the community from eccentric cranks into local heroes.

The company says the men are misguided and their concerns over the safety of the pipeline misplaced. Regardless, work has been brought to a halt, hundreds of workers have been laid off indefinitely and Shell finds itself mired in a costly public relations disaster.

“WE DON’T want people in prison — in fact, it’s the last thing we want,” said Andy Pyle, the chairman of Shell Ireland. “We recognise that there are some landowners with concerns, but these have been built up by misinformation and emotive language. It is absolute rubbish to suggest safety is not our primary priority, but, in hindsight, we should have done more to counter their concerns.”

Those concerns rest on the safeguards in place on the onshore pipeline that travels close to the homes of four of the men. The fifth, Micheal O Seighin, 65, a former schoolteacher with a heart condition, has been at the forefront of the protest movement for several years.

A report commissioned by Shell into the safety of the pipeline, published last month, concluded that the risks to the public “would be tolerable when compared with international criteria”. However, it also said the initial report was based on incomplete information. Meanwhile, protesters have queried the independence of the assessment, given that AEA Technology, the company that conducted it, worked for Shell previously.

The protesters believe Shell has chosen to process the gas onshore in order to save money. It is estimated that a land refinery would save the company €300m and shave 40% a year off operating costs for the expected 20-year lifespan of the field. Pyle, however, dismisses the contention that Shell would put shareholders’ profit above the safety of the people of Rossport.

“That is totally untrue: I don’t know how strongly I can refute that,” he said. “I would have no problem with a totally independent review if I thought it could break the logjam, but what constitutes independence and would it be accepted?” Pyle claims that the pipeline is “grossly overdesigned” for the pressure of gas that will run through it, but says the company has chosen to err on the side of caution. Conceding it would be far more expensive to site the processing plant at sea, he says the company’s priority was safety. According to Pyle, more accidents would likely occur if the plant were placed offshore.

Pyle insists that Shell had tried everything in its power to set up meetings with the landowners individually or as a group in a bid to allay their fears, but the prospects of dialogue faded last month.

“We wouldn’t meet them in a large, open forum because we didn’t want it hijacked. There are people who have objected all the way and who object to just about every development in Ireland,” he said. “You can’t have a proper conversation with such people, never mind an agreement, and there is no point getting into a slanging match.”

The problem for Shell is that its appeal for dialogue may have come a dime short and an hour late. The locals are in no mood to listen as long as their neighbours remain in prison, and attitudes are hardening with every day. Although Joseph Finnegan, the High Court judge, said last week that “their fate lies in their own hands”, there is little doubt the community holds Shell and the government responsible for their continued incarceration.

“We are at a very dangerous impasse,” said Ian McAndrew, a local representative of Udaras na Gaeltachta and the former chairman of the Erris Pro-Gas Alliance. “I have been a supporter of the gas project, but it is not right that local people who have very real fears about the pipeline should find themselves locked up like common criminals.

“Shell must learn that bringing Irish citizens to the High Court will not resolve anything. By doing so it has galvanised the Erris community into collective action like never before.”

McAndrew, Coyle and other supporters of the project are calling for government intervention in the dispute, the release of the men and suspension of all work pending the outcome of an independent study of the project. They fear the continuing standoff could encourage Shell to cap the wells it has already drilled and abandon the €21 billion project entirely — something Pyle has not ruled out despite the €500m the company has already invested in it.

So far, the government has shown little appetite for involvement and Noel Dempsey, the minister for communications, marine and natural resources, explicitly ruled out any intervention on the basis that it was a judicial matter.

Shell’s status as the apparent Goliath in this struggle with a small group of protesters has put the energy giant on the back foot in the battle for hearts and minds, locally and nationally. Marathon and Statoil are also developing Corrib field, but Shell has been drawing almost all the flak. The protest was broadened last week with pickets placed on Shell filling stations and a demonstration outside the Irish embassy in Edinburgh in the run-up to the G8 summit.

The Erris peninsula in northwest Mayo is an area the size of Co Louth, but a legacy of emigration means that it is one of the most sparsely populated places in the country. Work has been scarce and the prospect of 300 jobs during the construction phase of the project and a further 50 full-time positions at the refinery received a broad welcome.

This is a close-knit community, but now brothers and neighbours face each other across picket lines.

Shops and houses all over the area are festooned with banners in support of the Rossport Five, the local radio station blares out a song urging people “to tell Shell to go to hell” and hundreds of locals turn up every day to block access to the site of the proposed gas processing plant.

Last Sunday, Erris was all but empty. After priests at every pulpit said prayers for the five men, several hundred people travelled to the town of Castlebar for a protest march organised by local TDs.

When the five appeared in court two weeks ago they represented themselves. Last week when the case came up for mention in the High Court, it emerged that John Rogers, the former attorney-general, would be fighting their corner. It is unclear if he will do so without charge, but the men are unlikely to have the resources to fund such high-profile representation.

The men — O Seighin, Willie Corduff, Brendan Philbin and brothers Philip and Vincent McGrath — say they are determined to carry on indefinitely. At Cloverhill they wear regular prison uniforms and share two cells. They are receiving a steady stream of visitors, including relatives, friends, and political representatives.

THIS is a local dispute, but it has national consequences. The Kinsale field off the Co Cork coast is depleting rapidly and Ireland faces the costly prospect of importing huge amounts of gas.

According to the most recent data from the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), if Corrib does not come on stream, Ireland would be forced to import almost all of its gas requirements. Even further delay will mean more imports as the CER was projecting supply from Corrib by 2008.

The outcome could also send out a discouraging message to other would-be developers, according to Pyle: “When you have a situation whereby a few people can derail a major infrastructure project, then you have anarchy. It was always going to be ‘big Shell against the little landowner,’ but any reasonable person would have to conclude this pipeline is safe.”

Last week Justice Finnegan said he would have no hesitation in jailing every farmer who blocks the road into Rossport, but the threats from a Dublin judge are unlikely to cut ice with the members of this remote community who believe they now have little option but to make a stand.

Irish car prices s are the dearest in Europe

Irish cars are the dearest in Europe - Ireland - Times Online

(My view - is it fair to compare prices in countries where earnings and other forms of taxation are not the same. Ireland chooses to tax vehicles - maybe to reduce co2 emissions - that is their choice. There are plenty of new cars on the road - so the prices must be OK for many people?)
IRISH car-buyers are being charged up to €8,200 more than their EU counterparts for the 10 leading models, a Sunday Times analysis has found.

Because of vehicle registration tax (VRT), the biggest-selling cars in Ireland are on average €3,000 dearer than in the 11 other eurozone countries.

The study found that within the eurozone, Irish car-buyers pay the most for five of the most popular vehicles, and the republic is second or third dearest for the other five models in the top 10 list.

Motorists’ representatives say the analysis proves that VRT in Ireland is leading to “extortionate” car prices. The EU has already branded the tax unfair.

Cyril McHugh, chief executive of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI), said: “Motorists should be screaming at the government over this tax. As the figures show, it forces Irish people to pay way over the EU norm and makes a joke of the idea of a single market when it comes to buying cars.”

Conor Faughnan of the AA said: “VRT is a cynical tax. It was brought in by the government when excise duty had to be abolished, in order to keep generating revenue from motorists. Technically it’s legal, but it’s not fair. Irish motorists are forced to pay between 20% to 30% more for our cars than other EU countries.”

The Toyota Corolla is the best selling car in Ireland, according to statistics compiled last December. EU figures show that a 1.4 litre version in the republic sells for €21,260. The same car can be purchased for an average of €16,562 in the eurozone and is on offer in Germany for just €14,550. It costs €14,621 in Italy, €15,167 in France and €15,195 in Spain.

The Toyota Avensis is the No 2 seller in Ireland, where a 1.8 litre model costs €27,220. The average price in the eurozone is €22,900. In Italy the model sells for €18,980, €8,240 less. It’s slightly more expensive in Finland and Portugal than in Ireland, but is cheaper at €19,485 in Spain and €19,649 in France.

A 1.6 litre Ford Focus costs €22,275 in Ireland, compared with €16,018 in France, and is on average €4,013 cheaper in the rest of the eurozone. The Volkswagen Golf is €18,037 in Ireland for a 1.4 litre model, compared with €14,525 in Greece and an average of €16,058 across the zone.

Similar differences are recorded for other major models. A 1.5 litre Nissan Almera, for example, is €19,035 in Ireland, but averages at €15,852.

The figures also show that Ireland is among the dearest when all 25 EU countries are included. For the five leading models, only Denmark is dearer, which has a taxation system that can more than double the pre-tax price of new cars.

The UK is significantly cheaper with the Toyota Corolla costing €5,670 less, and the Avensis and Ford Focus being €7,270 and €5,220 cheaper respectively.

McHugh said: “When VRT was introduced 12 years ago it contributed €196m to the exchequer. Now this figure is almost €1 billion, yet there has been no let up on the car-buyer. We want a reduction and ultimately we want the tax to be abolished.”

Motoring groups argue that the tax limits the size of the Irish car market, and VRT means Irish motorists do not get the same level of equipment in their cars despite paying more. In some cases safety equipment, standard in other EU countries, is optional in Ireland to keep the price of cars down.

VRT has to be paid on all new and imported cars in Ireland. It is additional to Vat and is calculated as a percentage of the expected retail price of a car at rates of between 22.5% or 30% depending on engine size. Some countries in the EU have similar systems but do not charge as much.

Galway is happiest county in Ireland

Galway?s the clear grinner - Property - Times Online

A new survey reveals for the first time just where Ireland’s happiest and least contented people live. Mark Keenan examines the reasons behind those smiling — or grim — faces

Happiness may or may not have anything to do with a cigar called Hamlet, but the findings of a nationwide study soon to be released shows that moving to a hamlet of the small village variety may be just the tonic to restore the joys of life.

Ireland’s most comprehensive study into people’s quality of life and happiness has just been concluded by a team from University College Dublin.

The results have been derived from extensive interviews with 1,500 citizens from all walks of life. Published exclusively today by The Sunday Times, they show where Ireland’s happiest and least contented people live.

We Irish appear to be an extremely happy bunch. In a report published last week by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, we were the second-happiest nation out of the 25 states and three candidate countries surveyed.

And last year the Economist’s research unit named Ireland the happiest nation in the world (of 111 nations), with a seemingly perfect combination of new wealth and old family and religious values.

The latest study from UCD’S planning and environmental policy unit details where that happiness comes from. Not surprisingly, high on the list is where we live — our address and its immediate environs.

From the research conducted by Professor Peter Clinch, Finbarr Brereton and Dr Susana Ferreira,

The Sunday Times has broken down the results to divide them county by county to see exactly where Ireland’s happiest people live.

Those questioned were asked to rate their overall contentment on a scale of one to seven, where one was described as “life is as bad as can be” and seven was “as good as it can be”.

It confirms what the European study shows, that as a nation we’re a generally contented bunch. Almost all the answers fell in the top end of the scale, between four and seven. However, there were some interesting variations.

Galwegians are far and away the happiest people in Ireland, and given the previous Economist worldwide survey, arguably the happiest in the world. The highest happiness score — almost full marks with 6.93 — came from Co Galway. And Galway city wasn’t far behind with 6.65, the second-highest score in the republic.

Wicklow dwellers were next, with a very smiley 6.32, and are followed by Tipperary — Ireland’s next most contented county with a sunny score of 6.12. Surprisingly, Limerick city comes next with 5.96, demonstrating that Shannonsiders are a resilient and cheery bunch despite the reputation their city has gained nationally for crime and social problems.

Overall, however, the biggest revelation is what impact rapid growth, urbanisation and congestion can have on morale.

With an overall score of just 4.97 and the only county to duck below the 5 mark, Dublin is completely blue.

Clinch said: “They’re not unhappy. A score of 4.97 is “reasonably content” rather than “happy”, but it underlines that the notion that Dublin has benefited most from the Celtic Tiger is missing the point. The overall objective of economic growth should be to improve quality of life and although incomes in Dublin have grown rapidly, they have not compensated Dubliners for factors like increased traffic congestion, living closer together in more confined spaces, increased costs of living and lack of amenities. These factors lead to lower levels of happiness in Dublin.”

Within Dublin, figures are broken down by local-authority jurisdictions. The unhappiest residents — and also the unhappiest nationwide — are in the South Dublin council area, taking in large tracts of West Dublin and lower income areas such as Tallaght and Clondalkin. The happiness level there of 4.59 is Ireland’s lowest by far.

Northsiders proved happiest in Dublin, with a lukewarm rating of 5.57 for Fingal, closely followed by the city’s most affluent quarter, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, at 5.21. City-centre dwellers registered a stoic 4.72.

Outside Dublin, the scenic but isolated, boggy and underpopulated county of Leitrim was least happy with a rating of 5. However, as the study group from Leitrim was unusually small, this might be an unfair result.

Donegal, beautiful but exposed, large and isolated, turned in a rating of 5.17, easing into the bottom five. Perhaps similar factors influenced Cavan’s low rating at 5.2.

With its growing city experiencing some of Dublin’s problems, Waterford turned in a rating of 5.07, making it Ireland’s third least contented county.

While the survey team did not examine reasons for unhappiness county by county, it would not be difficult to speculate on why Galway is Ireland’s breeziest.

Professor Clinch said: “Most of Co Galway is relatively prosperous economically with a good mix of different employment types. The bulk of Galwegians live in areas within or not far from population centres which are large enough to hold varied facilities and a selection of employment, but not too large to cramp lifestyles significantly or allow access to space and fresh air.”

The scenery in Galway is among the best Ireland has to offer and the presence of sea, lakes and mountains must have a role to play. With its two near-perfect happiness ratings, it seems that Galway comes closest to offering the best of all worlds.

“The survey results suggest that, everything else being equal, the ideal location for an Irish person to live is a small town — somewhere relatively rural, not too isolated, with facilities, services, scenery and worthwhile employment,” said Professor Clinch.

But other points of the survey also helped to determine which factors contribute most and least to happiness.

“What we have discovered is that income, while a factor in determining happiness, is not a major factor.

Up to a certain level additional income could improve happiness but it does not make a difference beyond a certain point.”

But the survey does show that the affluence of the neighbourhood we live in also has a bearing on our contentment.

“Keeping up with the Joneses or even surpassing them is important. Everything else being equal, up to a certain point, the higher your income relative to that of your neighbours, the happier you will be. It is obvious that how well off we feel depends on how our neighbours are doing,” said Clinch.

The type of accommodation you live in and your ownership status will also influence your level of contentment.

Not surprisingly, those with mortgages or paying rent were far less happy than those who owned their homes outright. Generally, the larger and better the home you live in, the happier you will be.

Weather variations are also a factor. A lower mean daily minimum air temperature in January and a maximum in July are both negative influences on happiness.

Kilkenny, a county that appears to have almost all of Galway’s advantages, only features tenth in the survey — and Kilkenny has both the coldest and warmest temperatures in Ireland.

One surprise is that almost all the wettest counties came near the top of the happiness table. “This may be explained by the fact that Ireland’s wettest counties are generally the most scenic,” said Clinch.

But what are the actual benefits of knowing exactly how happy or unhappy people are? Why spend years of research, the resulting costs and exhaustive interviews with 1,500 people to let the rest of us know which Irish citizens are most smug with their lot? “If the purpose of economic growth is to improve contentment, we need to know what matters most to people so we can set priorities for economic, social, environmental and planning policies. Traditional measurements such as GDP do not tell us whether government policies are actually improving people’s wellbeing,” says Clinch.

“The fact that the increased incomes of Dubliners do not compensate for the adverse effects of economic growth and development on their city shows it’s no good being paid more if you spend more time getting to work, sitting in traffic and pay more for a smaller home in a cramped area with poor amenities.”

The UCD report will surely highlight flaws in government policy to redistribute the benefits which are seen to be unfairly accruing in the greater Dublin area.

Indeed Clinch’s research shows that, if it weren’t for those poorer quality living conditions, Dubliners would be as happy as those living in the regions and therefore government policy should focus on improving urban living conditions. Proof also that Dubliners are not moaners by nature and that happy Galwegians may feel differently if they lived in the greater Dublin area.

For now, Clinch believes that lower levels of happiness among the city’s population may already be reflected in an increasing drift by Dubliners to country areas in search of contentment.

“The fact that a significant number of people are already leaving the cities for the country in droves underlines what they already know — that on the whole a rural life, with a good job, lower house prices and good amenities is a far happier lot than a well paid existence in a fraught city environment.