Falcarragh celebrates ‘May Day’ for first time

An ancient event is being brought back to life this weekend as local people for the first time celebrate the feast day of ‘May Day’ in Falcarragh, west Donegal. The event will take place this Saturday afternoon at 2pm at the main crossroads.

Originally, in Pagan times, a day commemorating the feast of Bealtaine, in May 1890 it became a holiday recognising international workers’ day and the fight for better working conditions.

“We decided to celebrate it as an act of solidarity with our own working people, many who have been made unemployed or who have been forced to emigrate over recent years,” said Owen Curran, one of the leaders of the four-year-long ‘Cloughaneely Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ campaign against household charges, and now water charges. Curran gives great credit to a number of people who he says have been pioneers in the struggle for greater equality as well as anti-austerity stalwarts, including Theresa and Caroline Woods, founders of the group; Mary Bridget Sharkey; Mary Attenborough; Moire McCarry; R.J. McLean; James Woods;  Gerard Gallagher; and Martin McEhlinny.

“The stark facts are that despite the Government telling us we’re ‘turning the corner,’ mass un-employment and emigration remains the reality here,” said Curran. “More than 400,000 people are on the live register with many more on ‘Job Bridge’ type schemes. Our young people continue to emigrate.”

Curran believes there are two reasons for continuing unemployment. “One is the slump in demand because of the cuts to peoples incomes. The second is lack of investment. Meanwhile, large profits are being made and wealth has increased for the rich. Oxfam estimates that the super-wealthy have 700 billion euro stashed in Irish bank accounts. The policy of incentives for the private sector to create jobs clearly has not worked. It most certainly has not worked in the Gaeltacht where Udaras has spent large sums of tax-payers money since their foundation. The result: mass unemployment levels and emigration from the area. What is needed is a real jobs plan, with investment channeled into a programme of necessary works such as school building, the fitting of buildings for rain-water harvesting, upgrades to sewage and water infrastructure, with work to begin immediately.”

The ‘May Day’ event begins at Falcarragh crossroads and there will be an open-mike discussion on pertinent issues such as local and national government job-creation strategies, as well as the planting of a tree in solidarity with all those from the area who have been made unemployed or forced to emigrate. Mr. Curran added that there will also be music and song, “because in the words of Emma Goldman, political activist, writer and feminist, ‘If I can’t dance to it, it is not my revolution.’

For further information, contact Owen at 086 312 2784 or Maire at 086 739 3116. Organisers say everyone is welcome.

Stark racism rears its ugly head in west Donegal

Sadly, an ugly racist incident took place Friday afternoon that brings the notion of ‘Ireland of the Welcomes’ and the reputation of the Donegal Gaeltacht into severe disrepute.

In trying to encourage more open public debate on what she considers is a serious community issue – Údarás spending of what is believed to be between one and three million euro on a proposed drug addiction clinic in Falcarragh and the need for greater funding for cultural tourism projects in west Donegal – my wife, Columbia – an emigrant to Ireland, now a proud Irish citizen and happy living in the Gaeltacht – was racially abused and told to “Go back where you come from. We don’t want you here.”

The person who shouted the abuse was a man, driver of a car with the registration plate 08DL5251 who stopped as he passed by a petition-signing table my wife was manning as a volunteer at Falcarragh crossroads around 3.30 pm this Friday.

This man’s distressing contribution to what he might well call ‘community development’ is all the worse considering how so many men and women from Ireland down through the generations, including the present one – and unfortunately, many from west Donegal – are emigrants themselves, in search of a new life in other countries, including England, Australia and the US. In this context, isn’t it sad such attitudes of discrimination as this man’s still exist here? Not only were his cutting and insulting remarks an example of stark racism right here in the heart of the Gaeltacht, but also utter hypocrisy.

My wife, Columbia, is a well-educated woman, a former secondary-school language teacher, one of two sisters from an ordinary working-class family in Vișeu de Sus, Maramureş, northern Romania, a small town very similar to Falcarragh itself  – both in terms of population size, pretty, rural location and indeed, economic difficulties it faces. Like many others, Columbia and her family suffered severely under Communism there until dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted from power in December 1989. Such suffering included lack of basic freedoms and constant food shortages – reminders in themselves of what our ancestors right here in west Donegal suffered.

Columbia raised herself from humble beginnings, won a scholarship to university and finished not just one degree but a number of qualifications in journalism, teaching and business, finally becoming for a number of years managing director of a company employing more than 30 full-time people. Not only do I love this lady very much, I am also extremely proud of what she has achieved in her life thus far.

If anyone should know the identity of the person driving car registered 08DL5251 on Friday afternoon through the centre of Falcarragh, please tell him an apology is in order. Doing so is the mark of a real man.

Alternatively, if he happens to pass you on the road, sound your horn – it might just act as reminder to him of the reputational damage he has done to the people around him and the place where he lives.

In defending spending on the Falcarragh addiction clinic, an apparent platform for his political career – and instead of dealing with the issue at hand – Udaras board member and Fine Gael local council candidate, John Curran, labeled myself and my wife on Highland Radio as ‘agitators’ and as people ‘stirring the hornet’s nest,’ rather than as concerned citizens.

Personalizing an issue in this way and using such incendiary terms often lights dangerous fuses in people. Ugly things – such as outright racism and violence – can occur as a result. Whether he meant to or not, Mr. Curran should now take steps to avoid such words for fear they are taken on board by such people as the racist car driver. In fact, perhaps, he should devote his attentions to dealing with such racial outbreaks, isolated though they may be.  And, of course making sure as a government-appointed Udaras board member that there is greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the organisation’s operations, and this addiction clinic specifically.

Sadly Yours,

Concerned Husband and Citizen

Bun na Leaca, Gaoth Dobhair

Support funding of cultural tourism projects in west Donegal

Protest and petition signing at Falcarragh crossroads today (Saturday) at 2pm

With west Donegal’s natural beauty, inspiring landscapes and rich heritage, this area is in an extremely favorable position to create jobs and a strong economy based on cultural tourism.
Such initiatives – of which there are plenty by local people – have the potential to attract tens of thousands of visitors to the area every year, creating a ‘clean’ industry as strong as in other parts of Ireland, including Cork and Galway.
Nowadays many tourists, national and international, are seeking greater ‘authentic’ experiences when they travel for leisure whether those experiences be based on natural scenery, history, archaeology, language, music or dance.
West Donegal offers these elements in abundance including being part of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way.’ What is lacking, however, is a committed long-term strategy incorporating generous funding to get these ideas off the ground and strengthen them.
Until now, funding has amounted in effect to ‘mere pennies’ when considered within the overall size of annual multi-million euro budgets of organizations such as Udaras, the largest economic group in the area (for the last two years, cultural tourism spend has amounted to less than three (3) percent of its budget). It is also interesting to examine the projects funded by the multi-million euro, EU-backed Donegal Local Development Company Ltd (DLDC).
In contrast, most Udaras funding has poured into industrial estates that now lie derelict and almost empty, yet still cost lots of money every year simply to maintain; largely outsider-owned manufacturing units, which simply pack-up and leave when free grants finish (Largo Foods); and call centers, many of which are short-lived before they move off to other cheaper places such as India.
While other areas of Ireland are creating strong environmentally-friendly economies and many jobs for their people within the hospitality industry based on cultural tourism – in cafes, museums, hotels, bars and bed and breakfast operations – west Donegal is lagging far behind.
It’s time we – all of us living here, wanting ourselves and our children to have decent, well-paying long-term ‘non-cabbage’ jobs – stood up and aired our views to the policy makers, including Udaras and DLDC officials as well as those standing for the upcoming County Council elections.
If we don’t speak out, we have less basis for blaming them for making decisions on economic development we disagree with.

Come to Falcarragh today between 2 and 4 pm to hear more about this subject or sign the online petition here.

This petition will be presented to our local political representatives as well as to leaders of key economic organizations such as Udaras and the DLDC.

Druids, faeries and a giant with a hole in his head – a witch’s brew of a carnival in Falcarragh

Possessing creative flair and organizational ability in abundance Kathleen Gallagher wanted to utilize her multi-faceted talents to support cultural and tourism development in Falcarragh – hey presto, some of the most colorful carnivals ever to grace the environs of this small, west Donegal Gaeltacht town.

Born in the tiny district of Carrowcannon, Kathleen (44), a teacher of early school leavers in Letterkenny, was a member of the Cosa Meata ‘Funky Feet’ Carnival Group and the more informal, self-named, tongue-in-cheek, ‘Creative Creaturs.’

Kathleen

As such, she was plum full of innovative ideas. And anyone who had the honor of witnessing the dramatic scenes as around 90 people dressed as zombies, vampires and creatures that go ‘boo’ in the night (with Kathleen as a zombie bride) emerged over the hill from the direction of the Bridge of Tears in the Muckish Gap, slouching into Falcarragh crossroads to the pulsating sounds of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ a few years ago know exactly what the term ‘innovative idea’ means. That particular event in 2010 raised more than 14,000 euro for the victims of the Haiti earthquake and also gained national recognition by featuring in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin watched by tens of thousands.

Haiti

Then there was the ‘Great Ball Race’ event on October 30, 2011, at which 4,000 numbered balls were released at the top of Falcarragh hill rolling down towards Gortahork and captured in a specially-designed collection chute, made by Dutchman, Rein de Groot. The event raised 4,230 euro for Concern to help reduce drought in Africa.

leprachaun

That brings us to the inaugural and intriguingly-entitled ‘Evil Eye Festival’ (Féile na Súile Nimhe) last year, which Kathleen and colleagues shaped to fit the national tourism campaign ‘The Gathering,’ and which will be repeated this year. Starring five impressive, 7-foot high puppets, two so complex they had to be operated by three people, a large cow structure made of timber and wire designed and made by Kerry Law and her partner Roger O’Shea and a 16-person squad of dynamic samba drummers representing the evil Balor’s army, as well as the assistance of the Cloughaneely Drama Group under the direction of Manus Diver and Joanne Butler and three of the area’s Irish schools of dancing (McCafferty, Maureen Byrne and Kavanagh), Kathleen and her team made local legendary history come to dynamic life. In the environs of Ballyconnell House estate (a verdant community preserve that may soon be turned into a Catholic Church-run drug addiction clinic), the story of the battle between Balor and his grandson, Lugh, son of Eithne, and the stealing of ‘An Glas Gaibleann’ (Cow of Plenty) from Mac Aneely, came to multi-colored life. Narration was in English and dialogue between characters ‘as Gaeilge,’ all replete with witches, faeries and a druidess (Biróg).

pupets 3

“It’s such a fantastic story, just waiting to be told in a multi-art form way,” is how Kathleen described the genesis of the event. “I knew we had a core of very creative people here who were well able to deliver a great spectacle. It was a case of building social capital in the area. We have plenty of local talent here. We just need the resources.”

The response to the festival last year was terrific, Kathleen recalls. “It worked out brilliantly. First of all, the weather stayed kind. And so many people – many of them locals, some of whom didn’t know the details of the legendary story of Balor and Lugh or the story about the stone behind the GAA field – came to enjoy the spectacle. Also, many people volunteered to help, even a plasterer, Martin Whoriskey from Gortahork, who saw us rehearsing at The Yard where he was working and happened to mention that he used stilts in his job to reach high spots. Immediately, we begged him to join us, which he did, playing the role of Balor – on stilts, of course. Aisling Friel from Gortahork, a former member of Cosa Meata Carnival Group, played the role of Eithne, daughter of Balor.”

headless man

For their efforts, the ‘Balor team’ was runners-up in the National Heritage Council award for ‘Most Innovative’ event, as well as the Me2U Donegal Volunteers Award.

Challenges, of course, were many, as they tend to be when launching such an ambitious idea. “It was a brand new project so people were initially a bit bewildered about it at the start. We also needed to find available space, both for the equipment and our life-size puppets, as well as for workshops such as the samba drumming training led by Roger. We were very thankful to Paul Kernan (coordinator) and his team at The Yard, who helped us very much. Sean Fitzpatrick, a wonderful designer, produced our posters and brochures.”

evil eye 1

With this year’s event due to take place between August 22 to 24, Kathleen and her committee – Sarah de Groot (treasurer), Angela Boyle (administrator), Finola Early (costume design), Kerry Law and Roger O’Shea (artistic design), Sean Fitzgerald (graphic design), and Moira Gallagher (public relations), are now focusing their minds on fund-raising, not an easy matter in these recessionary times we live in. Last year, they  raised €3,500 in fundraising for the three-day festival by organizing a ‘couch to circuit’ 5km training programme, a 9-week regime of three sessions of jogging a week; a “Santa spin,’ in which people dressed as the chubby fellow in red and chose any means of transport to move around the Falcarragh area (including ‘suitcases on wheels’ and go-karts); and a leprechaun hunt in the Ballyconnell House estate.

summer

Kathleen would like to develop her team’s ideas further and expand the yearly events’ calendar both to entertain members of the local rural community and attract more tourists to the area but urgently requires greater, guaranteed funds to do so. “So much effort goes into fund-raising before we even begin to embark on our ideas and there’s only so many times you can ask someone to volunteer their time and effort,” she said during an interview at An tSean Bheairic this week. “It would be so much easier if we were financially well supported and could focus our efforts more on creating great entertainment, with strong educational value, for young and old alike.”

Kathleen and her merry band of entertainers launch their fund-raising campaign soon. They deserve our full support. Delve deep into your pocket and give generously.

Fair or unfair? A nettlesome question of censorship

Sitting in the front row at a CeangalG (ConnectG) conference on cultural tourism at An Chuirt Hotel a few weeks back I took the opportunity to ask Udaras representative, Gearoid O’Smaolain, about his organization’s plans for a drug addiction clinic in Falcarragh.

As seems traditional policy with Udaras (a characteristic that has led to its acquiring the sobriquet ‘the Secret Society’), the organization’s local tourism official was reluctant to talk, but I persevered and asked him three separate questions on an issue that I consider is of strong importance to the local community. Ultimately, the response I eased out was that Udaras had received no decent proposals over the years for Ballyconnell House near the crossroads of the west Donegal town and was in advanced negotiations to turn it into a drug addiction clinic. This information was included in one of my stories, “Catholic church linked addiction clinic in Falcarragh – Is this the best use of tax payers job creation money?

Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from Stephen Maguire, who established the ‘Donegal Daily’ news service with Brenda O’Neill, where my story on the addiction clinic had been published, saying he had received the following email from Mr. O’Smaolain:

email 1

Until Mr. Maguire’s phone call and even though my name was clearly on the article, I had not received any communication from Mr. O’Smaolain about any alleged misquote, not even after I asked Mr. Maguire to have him contact me to discuss the matter (Having once been the beneficiary of my dear wife’s delicious ‘Columbian’ cooking as a guest at my home for lunch, there didn’t seem any valid reason for Mr. O’Smaolain to have been too shy about contacting me).

After many years in journalism, including working for The Irish Times, Time magazine and the Daily Telegraph, the United Nations Media Centre in New York, as well as founder and publisher of a national media and events company in Eastern Europe for ten years, I hope I have developed the right skills to compile an accurate story from an event. However, we are human, mistakes happen, so I asked Mr. Maguire what Mr. O’Smaolain said he had said.

This is where things began to take on a veneer of surrealism.

Mr. Maguire received from Mr. O’Smaolain what was alleged to be a ‘transcript’ of the Q&A we had at the conference and a private conversation I had with Mr. O’Smaolain afterwards. I found this to be surprising as I had been informed by the event organisers that there was no official transcript of the conference. And certainly, nobody tape-recorded the private conversation between us both, immediately afterwards. Also, as I was in the front row not ten yards away, directly facing Mr. O’Smaolain, I doubt very much if I misheard what he said, and I told Mr. Maguire as much (My Teeline shorthand learned at postgraduate journalism school at City University, London, is also pretty darn good. I may even proudly have reached the magic 100 words per minute back then).

When Mr. Maguire called me I was in Sicily (ironically visiting a cultural tourism project) so I asked him to e-mail me the so-called ‘transcript’ and I would respond when I got back to my hotel that evening. The ‘transcript’ is alleged to have been written by Mrs. Cathy MacDonald, the person who chaired the panel meeting Mr. O’Smaolain was on.

email 2

But the so-called ‘transcript’ of the Q&A is quite porous indeed, not surprising, considering the fact that it is never easy to do ‘double duty,’ meaning take comprehensive notes while chairing a four-person, panel discussion (for example, it is truly amazing to read above that while she is speaking at the event, she is writing at the same time). And, as I had learned a week or so earlier from Udaras HQ Galway that  it had spent around 2.2 million euro last year in Donegal, I would hardly have used the term “millions and millions” in relation to one project (it also strikes me as simplistic ‘baby talk’).

Stranger still, while I had quoted Mr. O’Smaolain saying there had been no “decent proposals” for Ballyconnell House since Udaras took it over many years ago, his so-called ‘transcript’ shows him saying there had categorically been “no” applications at all. Coincidently, a week or so before the CeangalG conference, on a bus journey to Letterkenny, a well-respected Gortahork-based businessman, Milo Butler, in the seat beside me, told me he had submitted a comprehensive proposal for a tourism complex including an equestrian centre to Udaras for Ballyconnell House, a statement he reiterated with much anger when we met in Falcarragh later and I told him what Mr. O’Smaolain had said. Anger is a natural, indeed justifiable, response from anyone who has, in effect, being called a liar. Even stranger still, in an e-mail I received yesterday from Siubhan Nic Grianna, national communications and marketing manager for Udaras, she indicates there indeed were some proposals submitted for Ballyconnell House to her organisation. But more on this in a future post.

After e-mailing both myself and Mr. O’Smaolain saying:

maguire's letter

‘Donegal Daily’ then removed the article on the addiction clinic from its news site, as well as more than 240 ‘shares’ from readers.

I was not pleased, of course, as by doing so, Mr. Maguire was leaving himself open to criticisms of infringing on freedom of expression, but as a former publisher, I also could picture the kind of pressure Mr. Maguire might be under from the powers that be.

Imagine my utter anger, however, when I woke next morning, without any further communication from Mr. Maguire, to read the following on the ‘Donegal Daily’ news site:

donegal daily retraction

I, of course, tried to reach Mr. Maguire by phone and e-mail from Sicily seeking a full explanation, asking what, if any, new information had come to light. There was no response. I contacted him again several days later, sending him another e-mail. As of the time of publishing this blog article, more than a full week later, I still have not received any response from him addressing any of my questions regarding the reasons for his actions – be that legal, editorial or simply financial, meaning Udaras or bodies/individuals associated with Udaras either threatening tacitly or overtly him as an individual or Donegal Daily Ltd. as a company to withdraw advertising, or promised future revenue such as grants. (I note that Udaras board member and Fine Gael local council candidate, John Curran, ran an advertising campaign on ‘Donegal Daily’ plus stories but I would be severely disappointed if he had interfered in freedom of the press or freedom of expression issues in any way – two avenues, I notice, he himself availed of when he promptly favorited the ‘Donegal Daily’ clarification on social media outlets).

Confusing matters further is the fact that the ‘Donegal Daily’ statement was headlined ‘clarification’ not ‘correction,’ so in an effort to clarify matters for readers and respond to the retraction published without my consent, I submitted the comment below to ‘Donegal Daily.’

sean's reply

It declined to publish it and even deleted it from its Facebook. Hardly an action supporting freedom of expression.

Note

After more than 30 years in journalism, some spent in the tough world of investigative journalism, I have learned there is one sure-fire rule: if the people/institution you are writing about cannot ‘deal’ with a particular story (due to its veracity and its controversial nature), they will inevitably attempt to ‘deal’ with the storyteller, usually through accusations of bias or/and professional ineptness.

Ultimately it is sad this episode has come to pass. For more than a year, I have tried through the normal accepted means open to citizens to obtain information from Udaras, locally and nationally, and indeed directly from Mr. O’Smaolain, through phone calls, e-mails and FOI requests, without receiving sometimes as much as the professional courtesy of a response, never mind the information I’ve requested. If I had, there would have been no need to ask Mr. O’Smaolain at a CeangalG public forum.

It must be remembered, Udaras is a public body, supported by your money, the national purse. As such, it should share openly – not hide secretively – details about how it is spending what is a very precious commodity these days. As the most recent scandal at Rehab and others before it have shown, ordinary people in Ireland have already suffered enough from lack of transparency and proper accountability in public and semi-public bodies.

I welcome your views, either through comments below or the contact page.

Public accountability? Or continued secrecy?

Recent focus on this blog on Udaras na Gaeltachta and its spending of public monies and particularly funding of a proposed Catholic Church-run addiction clinic near the main Falcarragh crossroads has obviously hit a nerve.

Local media editors have informed me over the last few days that they have been approached by Udaras officials both locally and from the organisation’s headquarters in Galway in an effort to have the tone of coverage changed, by seeking so-called ‘clarifications’ – a rarely used term that in actual fact means nothing, as something is either accurate or inaccurate – and free editorial space for what it termed ‘right of reply’ – which under Council of Europe guidelines is defined as: “offering a possibility to react to any information in the media presenting inaccurate facts … which affect … personal rights.” Ironically, articles published so far are trying to do just that – encourage Udaras to release information that affects key individual rights – ‘the right to know.’

For local media, defying such pressure can be extremely onerous due to present-day financial straits on both print and digital outlets and the less than media-friendly legal system in Ireland now. At the same time, independent journalism is a cornerstone of any democracy.

Unfortunately, Udaras has not – as yet – agreed to provide what is most needed for full, open public discussion – comprehensive information, specific responses to specific questions I – as well as other reporters and even our elected national political representatives – have asked repeatedly by phone, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and formal, written TD questions in the Dail (see earlier stories in this blog).

If such action in leaning on editors, and inaction in not providing key information, is not obstructing freedom of information, then what is? It echoes the words of Ireland’s Information Commissioner, who said at a conference last week that Ireland’s public service bodies still operate in a veil of secrecy, which changes in our FOI laws have only partially eased. He added, “There is still a long way to go.’ I agree.

Lack of transparency by Udaras sadly brings back memories from 25 years ago while working as a foreign correspondent for The Irish Times and for London-based Daily Telegraph and other publications in eastern Europe. There, in countries emerging from communist regimes, media faced great difficulties obtaining relevant information from civil service bodies that had got so used to acting in secrecy it had become ingrained in their way of thinking.

So, dear reader in continued pursuit of transparency in public matters and in consideration of their stated pledges about greater openness on issues related to Udaras, I have sent the following questions to the Donegal-based members of the national board of Udaras, namely Seán Ó Cuireáin, Eunan Mac Cuinneagáin and Daithí Alcorn, as well as to its Arranmore-born chairperson, Anna Ní Ghallachair.

In terms of fairness, I have allowed a whole week for a considered response (the deadline for their replies is Wednesday, April 16). Their pledges for greater openness should be obvious in the responses, especially as one of the board members is running for local political office on behalf of Fine Gael in the upcoming council elections.

I also include a small sample of feedback I have received from readers of this blog who are concerned about the spending practices and strategy adopted by Udaras in Donegal. Such feedback makes speedy, comprehensive responses by the aforementioned officials all the more important, details of which I will share with readers when – and if – they arrive.

The Questions –

1. Please provide all documentation related to investment and/or financial payments by Udaras to groups or individuals involved in the operation of Ballyconnell House over the years (from the date of first Udaras involvement in development of this property until present). Please include names and details of the groups and individuals as well as exact amounts.

2. Please provide all documentation related to grants by Udaras to groups or individuals involved in the operation of Ballyconnell House over the years (from the date of first Udaras involvement in development of this property until present). Please include names and details of the groups and individuals as well as exact amounts.

3. How much investment is to be made in Ballyconnell House to convert it into a proposed addiction clinic? I consider an absolute accurately figure may not be possible at this stage, but an estimation should be, as such a figure must obviously be an important part of budget discussions taking place now.

4. To whom is Udaras directly involved with in these negotiations, meaning what named organisations or individuals?

5. I understand from what John Curran said on Highland Radio last week that he has already visited three times, the Cuan Mhuire center in Newry. How many other board or executive members have visited Cuan Mhuire centres with respect to the proposed center in Falcarrgh, Donegal? And what centres have they visited? Has Mr. Curran visited other centres or met representatives, individuals or groups, of organsiations regarding the proposed clinic? Which ones?

6. What other organisations or individuals will be funding the proposed addiction clinic in Falcarragh? And how much will they be contributing (an estimate is fine)?

7.  What other organisations or individuals will be involved in the proposed addiction clinic project? And in what capacity?

8. Please name the person at the Donegal Udaras office who is spearheading the addiction clinic proposal.

9. Have any open, public discussion forums been organised by Udaras regarding the proposed addiction clinic where the community can contribute its input? If so, where and when? Please provide evidence of this.

10. What is the company-by-company breakdown of jobs created in Udaras-funded companies in 2013 in the Donegal Gaeltacht comprising the total jobs figure released to the media in January?

11. Please provide financial details on pension payments and any other payments upon retirement to the former CEO of Udaras and the former regional manager of Udaras in Donegal, Cathal MacSuibhne as mentioned in previous e-mails to you.

12. Has there been any other project proposals put forward to Udaras for the Ballyconnell House estate? If so, please provide details.

 

Reader Feedback:

Reader One: “Found your article on the addiction centre brilliant.  But did you know that if the state funds the centre then state is committing an illegal act?

Reader Two: “Great article on Ballyconnell House. I regularly play golf down there and I think it’s a disgrace the condition that fine property and grounds are in. That area has massive tourism potential. Udaras should be ashamed of themselves.

‘Stirring up a Hornet’s Nest?’ Or open public debate on a key issue?

I’ve just finished a radio discussion today on the Shaun Doherty Show on Highland Radio with Udaras board member and Fine Gael local council candidate, John Curran, on the proposed drug and alcohol addiction clinic in Falcarragh in west Donegal.

While I meet with John frequently – and admire what he is accomplishing in the voluntary sector and wish him every success in his upcoming political campaign for local council elections on behalf of Fine Gael – his describing me as “stirring up a hornet’s nest” by bringing to public attention an important project near the main crossroads in Falcarragh was disappointing, especially coming from someone who stated on his Facebook a day ago when launching his campaign, “I have pledged to make no empty promises, all I will say to anyone who has an issue or a suggestion is thank you and that I will try to address your issue if and when I am elected.

After all, this clinic, which is expected to cost hundreds of thousands – perhaps over a million euro – in public money, has important long-term repercussions for the local community in west Donegal, socially, culturally and economically, including:

  • restricted future access to this lovely area for members of the public;
  • perhaps (no guarantee), decent paying jobs;
  • far less money for tourism projects, cultural, arts or others, as promised by John and his fellow board members when appointed two years ago (in a beautiful and inspiring area as west Donegal such clean, environment-enhancing development could be enriching if funded is on a serious scale);
  • added trauma for local clerical abuse victims (unfortunately, the highest rate of such abuse per population is west Donegal) due to the involvement of Catholic Church-operated Cuan Mhuire, the company who will run the clinic, and which is alleged to have allowed such offending priests to say Mass at their centres.

For all of the above reasons, and more, the proposal for this clinic and its ramifications on the local community should be discussed openly. And as often as possible.

Unfortunately, the term ‘stirring up a hornet’s nest’ stated by John seems to echo a sentiment prevailing at Udaras – namely that the less the public knows about how its money is being used the better. A public body, using citizens’ hard-earned money, this economic group still refuses to reveal specific job-creation figures on a company-by-company breakdown of the ones it funds. Or the amount of money paid out from the public purse to its present and former top executives, locally and nationally, in pensions and other benefits.

John mentioned on the Shaun Doherty Show Highland Radio programme less than an hour ago that public information meetings have been held regarding the addiction clinic project. According to people who approached me, this is an erroneous comment and should be withdrawn. If such meetings had taken place, such a project – costing so much money and with such important social ramifications – would have made its way into the public arena, via media reports. Instead, the idea has remained in the realm of rumor and counter rumor and, until the story broke last week with details, might have remained there.

As a journalist and concerned social commentator, I can only do so much to highlight key issues affecting our community. It is important that others speak out (otherwise we cannot completely blame politicians for making bad decisions).

Therefore, if anyone wishes to comment, please do so – either for or against the project – on my blog or on that of other local media such as Donegal Daily, which published the story yesterday), or Highland Radio, which aired the debate today. Or directly to John Curran.

Only by voicing opinions strongly along whichever pathways open to us, can we influence what is happening in our own community. And with local elections coming up soon and campaigns well underway, there seems no better time.