The human misery and suffering that is wrapped up in the criminal activity of people trafficking came to our own South East doorstep last week when three men were jailed by a court in Timisoara, Romania.

At the end of a trial, a 41 year old man, his son and his nephew were found guilty of trafficking 28 people to Enniscorthy between 2006 and 2008. The unfortunate people paid the crooks €2,500 each to be smuggled into County Wexford in the belief that they were going to get jobs that would pay €2,000 a week. Of course, they were never going to earn that amount and most of the money they did earn, working from 5am to midnight seven days a week, was taken by the traffickers who kept their victims living in squalor and threatened to kill their relatives back home if they defaulted.

The gang was eventually broken up following a series of raids in Enniscorthy, Clonroche and Knockmore involving local gardai, officers from the National Immigration Bureau and the Romanian police. The prosecutions in Timisoara were secured largely on the basis of evidence supplied by the gardai and it turned out that the three defendants had previously been deported from this country for involvement in money laundering. The older of the three was sentenced to seven years in jail while his son and nephew got five years each.

Second Grammy nomination for Maura O’Connell

Her many fans and admirers will be pleased to learn that Ennis-born singer Maura O’Connell has been nominated for a prestigious Grammy Award in the United States, eighteen years on from her last nomination.

Maura, a former member of De Danann, emigrated to Nashville in 1986 where she became very successful and from where she continues to record and tour regularly. Her new album, which has been nominated in ‘The Best Traditional Folk’ category is entitled ‘Naked With Friends’ and it sounds very interesting because it is an entire album dedicated to singing only.

There is no musical accompaniment but a host of big names guest with Maura on the album such as Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Kate Rusby, Paul Brady, Mary Black, Moya Brennan and many more. Her sister Aine Derrane also features strongly. Maura said she was delighted with the nomination and it would be great if she could actually win the overall award. She set out with the intention of capturing the special joy that comes from people just singing together and she hoped she had achieved that.

Art or advertising, that is the question!

Hundreds if not thousands of pub owners around the country are holding their breath awaiting the outcome of a row between a County Wexford publican and the Health Service Executive over what constitutes pub art or pub advertising.

The argument concerns a licensed premises in Riverchapel that, like many others, has old advertising signs on its walls as decorations. One is an old steel sign extolling the virtues of Woodbine cigarettes while two decorative mirrors bear the inscriptions, ‘Players Please’ and ‘Players Navy Cut Tobacco and Cigarettes’.

The proprietor, Councillor Jimmy Fleming, insists that Woodbines and Players are ‘old style’ cigarettes that are not sold on the premises and the signs have been in place for more than thirty years as part of the decorative furniture.

However, when an Environmental Health Officer from the HSE visited the pub last week, she concluded that the signs amounted to advertising for smoking products and issued an order instructing Councillor Fleming to remove them.

For his part, Councillor Fleming is refusing to comply insisting that he will go to court and fight what he considers to be a ‘silly and over the top’ order. So, we shall see what we shall see.

Cemetery blues

Older readers will remember a radio presenter named Frankie Byrne who was an ‘on-air’ agony aunt on RTE. She always played a Frank Sinatra record to illustrate every sad story and signed off each week with the phrase, ‘it may not be your problem today but it could be tomorrow’. I thought of Frankie this week when I read that feelings were running very high in Mount Mellick over bylaws relating to the town’s St Joseph’s Cemetery.

Such is the bitterness involved, one body has already been exhumed under licence from the cemetery and many more are likely if the current situation pertains. Basically the row is over bylaws introduced by the County Council two years ago that forbid the use of kerbing or the laying of flowers on graves. Typical of the complainants are people who want to place flowers and other objects on the graves of loved ones but, because St Joseph’s is now a designated ‘Lawn cemetery’, they are not permitted to do so.

A spokesperson for Laois County Council, Ms Mary Donoghue, confirmed that one exhumation had already taken place under licence from the HSE and pointed out that, if families were not happy with the concept of lawn cemeteries, they had the option to apply to have their loved ones exhumed and interred elsewhere. Ms Donoghue said she had engaged in discussions with the families in question and fully understood their grief. But, she added, the bylaws were in place and the Council was obliged to administer them as they stood.

What one sows, one reaps!

A mechanic, a carpenter and a health insurance salesman all died on the same day and ended up outside the Gates of Paradise at the same time. “What have you all got to say for yourselves”, said St Peter as he eyed them up and down.

“Well”, said the mechanic, “I’ve been maintaining and repairing cars, vans and lorries all my life so I guess I have been responsible for the safe travelling of thousands of people for many years.” “You are a good and faithful servant, you may enter”, said St Peter as he ushered the mechanic through the Pearly Gates.

“I have made countless doors, tables and chairs during my life time and I guess I have contributed towards the well being and quality of life for a lot of people”, said the carpenter. “Indeed you have”, said St Peter, and he opened the Gates of Heaven wide for the carpenter.

“Health care is so important and I have been responsible for thousands of people having sufficient insurance to avoid the waiting lists and see them through when they got sick”, said the salesman. “You certainly have”, answered St Peter. “You too are a good and faithful servant and you may enter paradise – but you’ve only got cover for three days, after that you have to leave.”