The Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, appears to have stirred up a hornets’ nest with his new planning guidelines that seek to govern and restrict residential development in rural towns and villages. I suspect that this debate is only starting but, already, the reaction from around the country is hostile.

Politicians are queuing up to predict that Mr. Gormley’s plans will create a major housing crisis in rural areas and his proposal has been described as ‘typical of the concept of those living in Dublin who would establish an unworkable plan for the rest of the country’.

South Tipperary Fine Gael Deputy, Tom Hayes, was particularly caustic in his comments and declared that Minister Gormley had no comprehension of rural life and that his understanding was negligent. The Deputy said the new plan was an unfair and unmerited tool to cut down the number of people living in rural areas and described the proposal as an undemocratic act from a Minister whose small mandate did not reflect the draconian stance he was taking. Ouch!

Their time wasn’t up

Whenever somebody escaped what appeared to be almost certain death through illness or accident, my late father used to say that ‘their time wasn’t up’. Well, that phrase came to mind last week when I heard about a mother and her two young children who were saved from drowning at Bettystown beach in County Meath in what was an unusual rescue that bordered on the bizarre.

The helicopter rescue occurred only minutes after the funeral of Mr. Martin Dawe, who was the Coastguard’s Area Officer for Clogherhead, had taken place. The helicopter and crew had performed a ‘fly-past’ over the seaside cemetery as a tribute to Mr. Dawe and was returning to base when, to their amazement, they spotted a BMW car with passengers aboard floating in the sea off Bettystown.

A boat and land-crew also rushed to the scene but the helicopter crew were there first and the woman and children were plucked from the car just minutes before it was submerged. Apparently, the car had become stuck on the beach, which is famous for race-horsing, and the woman’s husband had gone to summon a tow-truck unaware at just how quickly the tide came in.

Members of the Coastguard service dedicated the dramatic rescue to the memory of the late Mr. Dawe and his brother-in-law, Dom Gradwell, told local reporters it was almost as if Martin had still been on duty.

Sending Joe off in style

Practically every regional newspaper last week carried tributes to the late Joe Dolan but, as one would expect, the biggest and best came from The Westmeath Examiner in his home town of Mullingar.

Of course, the staff in The Examiner were also paying tribute to one of their former colleagues because Joe served his apprenticeship as a compositor with the newspaper before embarking on his professional singing career. And The Examiner certainly did him proud by publishing a splendid, eight page, broadsheet commemorative tribute that will surely be a collector’s item in years to come and a must for all his many fans. I hope they doubled the print-run because the demand for this edition will be huge.

Lots of photographs and everything you ever wanted to know about Joe’s career is there and there are also comprehensive accounts of the funeral and of the things that people, the great and humble alike, had to say about him. ‘Mullingar in mourning’ was the apt eight-column headline on the front-page and the editorial writer stressed that Joe was, indeed, a prophet who was recognized and loved in his home place. Fans of Joe should contact the newspaper directly if they want a copy of the commemorative edition.

Never underestimate the influence of Irish nuns

In the wake of the turmoil that followed the assassination of the Pakistani politician and opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, it was interesting to note the part played by Irish nuns in shaping her character and career.

Ms. Bhutto’s earliest education was by nuns from the Jesus and Mary Order who, for the most part, came from Counties Mayo and Sligo and, in the Punjab and at Karachi, and they provided the springboard for her stellar academic and political careers. Years later, in media interviews, Ms. Bhutto often acknowledged that the Irish nuns had been a powerful influence in her life.

Some of the women who played such an important role in her upbringing were Sister Veronica Barrins of Sligo, Sister Mercedes O’Boyle of Ballina, Sister Nancy Doyle of Lahardane and Mother Eugene Glass, a Dublin woman who was headmistress of the convent in Karachi. She was particularly close to Ms. Bhutto and continued to be her confidante until the risks became too great.

Sister Grainne Lally of Castleconnor first met Ms. Bhutto when the Pakastani leader returned to her Muree school as a past pupil. She continued to have a strong affinity with the Jesus and Mary Sisters and entrusted her own daughter to the kindergarten run by Sister Dorothy Timlin of Ballina. When she was leader of her country, Sisters Nancy Doyle, Mary Langan and Mercedes O’Boyle were formally honoured by Ms. Bhutto for their contribution to education in Pakistan over a forty year period.

A Council assault on derelict properties

The New Year may be less than two weeks old but certain business people down the road in Enniscorthy are already feeling the financial strain. Owners of properties in the town, that are considered to be derelict by Council officials, have been landed with large fines.

The owner of the former Minch Norton site, adjacent to the new Dunnes Stores building, has been hit with a levy of €165,000 while the owner of Murphy Flood’s Hotel, who acquired the property after it burned down two years ago, has been handed a bill for €45,000. The owners of seven other sites in Enniscorthy have also been fined significant amounts in respect of their derelict properties.

Enniscorthy Town Clerk, Padraig O’Gorman, said the fines were not an income-generating measure but rather an effort to put pressure on the owners of the sites. “This has not been a knee-jerk reaction as we have been very patient and all the owners were well aware of the situation”, said Mr. O’Gorman, who pointed out that the levies represented 3 per cent of the current value of the properties and, if there was no improvement, the same amounts would be levied again next year. Tough talking indeed.

A frightening flight with Fluffy

A businessman was flying out of Waterford Airport for a number of meetings in Birmingham and he couldn’t help but notice a man in the departure lounge with a big, shaggy dog in tow.  The businessman got on the plane and was settled in a nice window seat when the man and the shaggy dog sat down beside him.  In an effort to break the ice, the businessman patted the dog and said to his owner:  “That’s a nice dog you have there, what’s his name.” “I’m sorry”, said the dog owner, “I don’t mean to be rude but please don’t talk to me until we are in the air.”

Assuming that his companion was a nervous flyer, the businessman turned back to his newspaper but, once the place was aloft and heading for Birmingham, the man turned to him and said: “I couldn’t speak earlier on because I am a plain clothes garda on duty and Fluffy here is a fully trained drugs-sniffer. We have reason to believe there are people carrying illegal drugs on this flight and that is why we are here.” “Cripes”, replied the businessman, “and is Fluffy going to flush them out?” “He sure is”, replied the garda.

Just as the aircraft was crossing the British coastline, the garda took the leash off the dog and said sternly: “Fluffy, search!”   With that Fluffy bounded up and down the aisle until he stopped for a moment beside a nervous looking young man before returning to the Garda where he barked twice, “Woof, woof.”  “That means Fluffy has detected cannabis and I will radio ahead to ensure that young man is questioned by police when we land”, said the garda.

“Fluffy, search!”, he commanded again and, this time, the dog paused beside another man and returned to the Garda and barked three times, “Woof, woof, woof.”  “That means he has detected cocaine and the man in that seat will also be questioned by the British police”, said the garda in a satisfied voice.

“We’ll give him one more go”, said the Garda, and Fluffy made his way up and down the cabin again until he stopped beside a young woman.  He began barking madly even before he got back to the garda and then he sat on his haunches and emitted a loud, mournful howl at the ceiling.  “My God”, said the businessman, “he must have really hit the jackpot this time.”

“Yes, but not the kind you’re thinking of”, said the Garda, an annoyed tone in his voice. “It’s just another passenger with a bloody big parcel of ribs, crubeens and chuck-bones and you can shut-up and feck off, Fluffy, because you can’t have any.”