Bertie’s bother

Sadly not enough time to talk properly about this whole incident, but I’ll quickly throw my 2c into the ring and hopefully return to it in more detail later.

(this post is a bit rushed)

Ahern’s statement on RTÉ News tonight has been an interesting one and I’ve no doubt that opposition offices are currently burning the midnight oil to get as much together on those named by an Taoiseach before tomorrow’s return of an Dáil. Simon has already laid the foundations for these investigations and his run-down should give you an idea of the questions that will arise tomorrow from the opposition.

So far this has been an uncharictaristicly poor performance by Ahern who is usually quite savvy with his public persona; he seemed to be caught off guard with his now infamous “communion money” comment and this attempt to put out the building fire seems to have simply provided his enemies with a bigger arsenal. It’s hard to say how long this issue will play out, the longer the worse for Ahern. It did seem originally that his expected speech would solve most of the outstanding issues but that has not been the case; when does a loan become a gift? How come many of these “friends” got good Government appointed positions after their goodwill and what of the ones that have a somewhat controversial background?

Maman warns the opposition to be cautious tomorrow, something that they have been so far by all accounts. It’s as yet unclear what effect the Bertie speech has had on the wider public, this is something that will become obvious by tomorrow I’m sure. What is already quite clear, however, is that most politico’s aren’t yet convinced on the matter and are still waiting for more.

A few things that you have to watch in the coming days:

Now is the time, if you aren’t doing it already, to keep a close eye on Irishelection.com. The site is sure to be the source of much debate in the coming days and plenty of analysis too.

Tune into an Dáil to see what the opposition have to say, and if Bertie is willing to comment further on the matter.

What has been interesting is the silence from the PD’s. McDowell has been careful not to rush into a major statement, waiting for Ahern to clear things up. He has to balance being the man that works closest with Ahern and Fianna Fail and being the leader of the party that is suppose to keep the senior party in check. If this issue carries on until Friday he will find it far harder to keep quiet.

Finally; I’m probably not the only one to have heard numerous negative stories about Ahern in recent days (unconnected to this issue), something that was before quite uncommon. While everything I’ve heard has been rumour and completely unrepeatable here for obvious reasons it is indicative of an end to the “Teflon Taoiseach” of the past where his ‘man of the people’ image made him above reproach…

Back in blog

As the rest of today’s blog posts can confirm, I’ve had a pretty productive first week at the Sunday Business Post, something I hope will continue for the remainder of my month’s  work experience there.

Any fears I had of being the tea-boy were quickly distinguished and I was given plenty to do on numerous topics and scales; all in all I’ve had an enjoyable week and an extremely beneficial one.

Hopefully now I’ve settled into the environment a bit better and am delighted to have the opportunity of seeing a newspaper from the inside for once. I still have plenty to take on board and a lot of work to do on my own writing abilities (for example I have to get snappier with that all important opening paragraph) but I hope that by the end of the four weeks I’ll have a much greater taste for the job and a more tuned sense of what I need to do in different situations.
I’m hoping to get back to blogging, even a little, during the week too; I held off last week while I let my body re-adjust to the new routine I was putting it through.

Perhaps during that time I’ll start to work on my blog article on the differences between journalism in college and in a working newspaper, although that’s likely to come at the end of the four-week stint…

Dancing diggers to woo farmers (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from the Sunday Business Post:

A massive television audience may be focused on Co Kildare for the Ryder Cup this weekend, but this year’s World Ploughing Championships, to be held in Co Carlow from Wednesday to Saturday, will cater for more than the number of people at the K Club this weekend.

More than 150,000 people are expected at the 53rd annual championships, which are being held in Grangeford, Tullow.

The K Club hosted 120,000 people during the three days of Ryder Cup competition.

More than 300 farmers from 27 countries including Ireland will take part in this week’s ploughing championships, which will run for a day longer this year than last. More than 800 businesses will be displaying their products and services at the show.The championships, which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Irish National Ploughing Association, will feature displays and exhibitions, including the JCB Dancing Diggers, featuring a team of digging machines performing elegant dance routines.

Speaking about the championship, Colum McDonnell, national grain committee chairman of the Irish Farmers Association, said: ‘‘The event is incredibly important to Irish farming, not only because it is the largest operation in Europe, or because this year it is a four-day world ploughing event, but because it is able to get into the mood of Irish farming and enables farmers to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the coming year.”

FG plans to lower minimum age for TDs (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Eighteen-year-olds would be free to run for seats in the Dail should a policy adopted by Fine Gael this week lead to constitutional change.

Article 16.1.1 of the Constitution (pdf file) states that only citizens over the age of 21 are eligible to become TDs. However, Fine Gael’s environment spokesperson Fergus O’Dowd said the party had now included support for an age change in its party policy.

‘‘This is part of our party’s attempt to encourage young people to participate in our democracy,” said O’Dowd. Fine Gael previously announced that it would use the Personal Public Service Number (PPS) system to automatically register people over 18 in an effort to attract more young people into politics. Fine Gael has the country’s youngest TD, 28-year-old Damien English, who has been trying to attract the youth vote in recent months. In July, party leader Enda Kenny launched a poster campaign encouraging young people to register to vote. Posters appeared at the Hi:Fi and Electric Picnic music festivals.

As the minimum age for Dail membership is part of the constitution, a referendum would be required to make an amendment. O’Dowd said the party had not made any decisions in this regard as the policy had only been agreed upon.

Lack of interpreters for foreign nationals (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Foreign citizens living in Ireland could receive harsher treatment by the courts and may even be wrongly convicted due to a lack of qualified interpreters in the country, according to the author of a new report to be published this week.

The report by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), which will be released on European Languages Day on Tuesday, calls for the introduction of a national advisory body to regulate interpreters and encourage more Irish people to become multi-lingual.

‘‘Interpreters will not always be top-of-the-range people who have the expertise we need because they’re not properly trained,” said the report’s coauthor, University of Ulster academic, Pol O Dochartaigh, chairman of the RIA’s modern language committee.O Dochartaigh said that poor translation could lead to vital information being omitted in hospitals and the courts.

‘‘You could easily get a situation where people get a stiffer sentence than they would have otherwise and in a worst-case scenario I suppose you could find someone being found guilty when in fact the mitigating circumstances might have led to their acquittal,” he said.

O Dochartaigh said that the shortage of qualified interpreters in hospitals and the courts could lead to legal challenges if an underqualified translator was employed.

He called for a new system to be introduced similar to one used in Germany where an interpreter cannot operate in a court unless they have a recognised qualification.

He argued that this would ensure that interpreters were representing individuals properly.

The report criticises the lack of regulation and the shortage of interpreters in Ireland.

‘‘When patients come into a hospital seeking treatment, it can be delayed because they don’t know how to explain what’s wrong with them in English,” said O Dochartaigh, arguing that greater emphasis needs to be put on languages in the education process, even at primary school level.

‘‘By the time you call for an interpreter the situation can get worse and even when you get one they may not be completely familiar with medical language.

‘‘You could even have a situation where the problem is explained in the patients’ native language and the interpreter mistranslates it.”

O Dochartaigh said that Irish people’s increasing deficiency in languages could have a negative effect on the country’s position in the global economy.

‘‘You have declining numbers taking up French, German and Spanish, never mind any other languages, and what we need is a change of attitude,” he said.

‘‘There’s toomuch of this old belief that the whole world speaks English so you don’t need anything else. If the Irish want to make an impact in the export market, they’re going to have to learn languages.”

The report found that 2,500 fewer students studied a language at Leaving Certificate level in 2005 than in 2001, while during the same period the points required for language-based courses at third level did not increase at the same speed as for other subjects.

Three Northern parties at Clinton conference (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Leaders of three of the North’s four main political parties attended the second Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting held this week in New York.

The aim of the meeting, which ran from Wednesday to Friday and was hosted by former US president Bill Clinton, was to bring individuals from charities, business and politics together to discuss international problems and their solutions.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, SDLP leader Mark Durkan and UUP leader Reg Empey were at the invitation-only meeting, along with former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, former Irish president and UN ambassador Mary Robinson and Tom Arnold, chief executive of the charity Concern.The gathering focused on climate change, global health, poverty alleviation and also religious conflict such as the growing rift between Islam and the West.

Last Thursday Virgin boss Richard Branson pledged $3 billion (€2.34 billion) to tackle global warming as part of the initiative, $500 million more than the total amount raised at last year’s event.

Other prominent figures at last week’s event included Microsoft head Bill Gates, philanthropist Warren Buffett and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Former US secretary of state Colin Powell, UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former US vice-president Al Gore also attended the event.

Family firms ‘must stand up for themselves’ (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An aritcle of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Hotelier Liam Griffin believes that the concerns of family businesses are going unnoticed because the sector has failed to represent itself until now.

The Wexford man, who owns a chain of hotels in the southeast of the country, said that while business owners were probably the hardest working in the country, the commitment they make to their companies has made them miss the trend of co-operation and unity seen elsewhere.

‘‘Over the years, all of society has got itself organised in some way,” said Griffin. ‘‘Big business has its own organisations and workers have trade unions. But because family business is so diverse and people have their heads down, they haven’t created an individual voice in the same way.”

Griffin, the former Wexford hurling manager, will be speaking on ‘‘the difficulties and challenges of the long distance business’’ at the Irish Family Business Conference 2006, which will be held in University College Cork this Friday.

Other speakers at the conference include Bob Geldof and Superquinn president Feargal Quinn.

Part of the third generation of his family’s hotel business, Griffin is a stalwart of the Irish hotel industry. When he was 11, his parents bought a small hotel in Rosslare harbour, having spent years previously keeping guests in their house.

‘‘We moved in there and I started living in a hotel from that moment, and I haven’t left since,” he said, adding that his whole career has been tied to hospitality.

Griffin was the first member of his family to study hotel management, at Shannon College of Hotel Management.

Now working with two of his sons in the family business, the Griffin Group has three properties – the Hotel Kilkenny, the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford, and the Monart Spa, Ireland’s first purpose-built destination spa, which opened recently outside Enniscorthy in Co Wexford.

Griffin feels that a lack of unified representation has made it harder for family businesses to be heard on the important issues that can impact on the work they do.

‘‘It’s very difficult to get individual business people to lead the way forward but it is probably something that is very necessary if small business wants to affect changes that might be made on them,” he said. He points out that legislation, especially at an EU level, is usually implemented without consultation and the only way to be noticed is through the political and lobby process.

Griffin feels better communication can help keep small businesses competitive in an increasingly globalised Irish market. ‘‘People in business are often very lonely – they feel threatened and besieged, and because they’re not part of big organisations they tend to suffer in silence. Any forum that attempts to get them together would be of enormous benefit,” he said.

On an individual level, other issues can also arise in family businesses that others may not have to deal with – succession being one example.

‘‘With a family business all family members have some relationship with it, but as the family broadens out and starts to marry, the needs become different and it can cause major conflict,” he said.

Griffin himself was on the receiving end of this pressure when he was starting his career.

‘‘I felt a sense of obligation to go into my own family business because I knew what effort had gone into establishing it, but lots of people sacrificed things in those days, and I was no different,” he said.

However, Griffin is quick to note that he is in the job out of a love for what he does, and not because he has no other choice.

But his decisions have left him with some regrets, specifically from the sacrifice he made in sport.

‘‘The minute I got onto the hotel track , it did impact on my sporting career and I regret that very much. Hotel work was different in those days; you would seldom get any Sunday free,” he said.

While Griffin missed the chance to reach his potential on the field, he has gone some way to compensating from the sidelines. In 1996, he guided the Wexford hurlers to their first All-Ireland win in 28 years. He is still involved in coaching at club and county level.

At present, 75 per cent of all Irish businesses are family owned. This accounts for half of the country’s employment.

Through increased co-operation and the creation of a common voice Griffin feels that family businesses can also get the recognition they deserve.

‘‘It is important to put the contribution of family businesses into perspective, and maybe it needs to be appreciated a bit more,” he said.

The Irish Family Business Conference is being organised by the John C Kelleher Family Business Centre in UCC and is sponsored by Thomas Crosbie Holdings, owners of The Sunday Business Post, Davy Stockbrokers, Enterprise Ireland, PricewaterhouseCoopers and solicitors Ronan Daly Jermyn. For further information, call Judith Muir at 021–4902940. Email family business@ucc.ie

Canali suits Ryder Cup Europeans (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post:

The story goes that while on a visit to Ireland in 2004 Ian Woosnam dropped into one of Louis Copeland’s shops, tried on a Canali suit jacket and made the immediate decision to have the company dress the European Ryder Cup team at this weekend’s tournament.

The Welsh golfer is not the only one with such refined tastes, and certainly not in Ireland.

According to the company’s Italian managing director Paolo Canali, the Irish market has become increasingly important to the exclusive Italian menswear company.

‘‘Around 30 per cent of our production is exported to Europe,” he said. ‘‘Over the years Ireland has been ranking higher and higher.”Established in 1934 by Giovanni and Giacomo Canali, the company began to export only in the late 1970s; today 75 per cent of all production goes to customers outside Italy. Canali believes that increased wealth in Ireland has been just one factor behind the ever-growing demand from this country.

“’This applies elsewhere but Ireland is an outstanding example of the effects of higher disposable income as well as increased knowledge. More people are reading magazines and travelling and catching fashion trends quicker,” he said.

He believes that while an increase in personal wealth has made high-fashion available to a bigger audience, the information age has made Irish people far more fashion-aware.

Canali describes what he calls the ‘‘organic’’ growth of the company from its small beginnings to its current status.

He said good clothing sells itself.

For the soft-spoken Canali, word of mouth and brand loyalty are vital to the company’s success.

‘‘The most effective tool we have to convince a customer to buy is for them to wear,” he said. ‘‘Our quality is the best promotion.”

Canali believes that this attitude has become rarer today in a textiles industry no longer comparable to the one in which the company first made its mark.

‘‘Globally the market has changed,” he said. ‘‘For example, there are fewer companies now than before. We are now also quite individual because we source the best possible product.

“All of our range is 100 per cent Italian made and everything is produced in our own factories.

‘‘We serve a niche market.

“We acknowledge that people may buy other labels as a fashion statement or for the price although there is always a group of customers who look for quality,” he said, suggesting that the cost-cutting measures employed by other manufacturers reduces more than just their sale price.

As part of the agreement with the European Ryder Cup team Canali provided five sets of clothing for the more formal traditions of the tournament, including the gala dinner and opening ceremony.

The company has increasingly tried to associate itself with major sporting events in the recent years. It has dressed the US Davis Cup tennis team and has developed a relationship with the American sports network ESPN.

Canali has 11 clothes showrooms around the world, including shops in Paris and Kuwait City. He opened an outlet in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, last week. He would, however, prefer to focus on production rather than retail – the company’s Milan branch, not far from the its headquarters in Sovico, was opened only in 1999 following a decline in multi-brand outlets in the city.

As a family business Canali is keen to work with likeminded organisations. A director of the company, Elisabetta Canali, Paolo’s sister jocosely refers to Louis Copeland as part of their extended family and there is no denying that both have a lot in common.

Both businesses were set up in the first half of the 20th century and are managed by the third generation of their families.

While the fourth generation has become involved in the running of Louis Copeland & Sons, Paolo said the next generation of his business was ‘‘maybe a bit too young right now’’ to get involved in the business.

Five things to do in Birmingham (SBP – 24th September 2006)

An article of mine from the Agenda section of today’s Sunday Business Post:

In a nutshell: Once the industrial heart of England, Birmingham has managed to reinvent itself in recent years as a stylish and vibrant second city with much more to offer than you might first think.

Recently moving away from its reputation as a concrete jungle, the city boasts a unique mixture of architecture and cultures spanning the centuries and the globe.

Climate: Similar to Ireland. The city has recently seen an increase in small tornadoes, although these are rare.

When to visit: During September, when Birmingham City Council holds its ArtsFest which features free dance, music and film exhibitions and shows at theatres, concert halls and open-air stages dotted across the city.

How to get there: Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) both have multiple flights to Birmingham from Dublin; Aer Lingus flies to the city from Cork airport every other day.

Birmingham airport is linked by train to the city centre.

Currency: Sterling; €1 = 0.67p.

Useful sites: www.beinbirmingham.com

1. Be bullish

A prime example of the redevelopment work going on in the city is the Bullring shopping centre. Built on the site of an old market complex, the centre features countless high-end retailers including Selfridges, which is the city’s fashion epicentre. The traditional markets are not gone, however, as behind the centre is the Old Bullring, which opens on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and hosts a wide array of small stalls.

2. Overdose on chocolate

A short trek outside the city centre is the original Cadbury factory in Bournville. Now a major attraction, the Cadbury World tour allows visitors to wander around at their own pace or as part of a guided tour through the history of the famous sweetmaker. The tour lets visitors taste fresh chocolate and acquaint themselves with the taste of cocoa, from which the chocolate is made.

3. Let the day drift by

If you are looking for an alternative way to see the city’s sights, you could do a lot worse than take a trip through its many canals.

There are plenty left, mainly linking the city to the Black Country.

Today, they tend to be used by tourists and residential boats.

4.The Brummy Balti

Due to its strong multicultural population, Birmingham became the source of a unique curry-style dish called Balti in the 1970s.

The Balti Triangle in Birmingham has more than 50 ‘Balti houses’. This huge selection means you can be as adventurous as you want, although it is worth remembering that Balti houses do not have drinks licences, so bringing your own is welcomed.

5. Get a rush

Built on the site of an old mansion by the same name in the 1980s, Alton Towers, which is situated just north of Birmingham, is arguably England’s best-known amusement park. There are countless rides and shows on during the day with plenty to offer any age group.

Day tickets cost about €35 for adults and €24 for kids. A family pass is also available. Special internet rates are sometimes available on the park’s website (www.altontowers.com).