Over the last few months, quite a few people have contacted this newspaper about the problems of being unemployed and, more than once, the question has been asked if the present rules governing dole payments are unconstitutional. The answer from me is that I don’t honestly know and I can’t recall or find any record of such a challenge ever been taken in the courts.

The main complaint refers to means testing for dole payments. A person can be in work all their life and, each week for thirty of forty years, have PRSI and all other state reductions taken from their wages. Then comes a dreaded day when a man or women is informed that their job is gone and ‘goodbye and good luck’ with the rest of your life.

The person signs on and receives a jobseeker’s allowance for a period of time and, if they haven’t secured employment during the required time-frame, they are assessed for the dole. And that is where the perceived unfairness appears.

If the unemployed person has nothing, they get the dole but, if their partner is working or if they have savings, that is taken into account and they either get a reduced weekly payment or, sometimes, nothing at all. Even though the person in question is a separate individual and has dutifully paid all the taxes and levies required of them for years and years, suddenly he/she ceases to exist as an individual and is assessed as part of a couple. Incidentally, as long as they are living together there is no taking into account the actual relationship between the couple. The one still working could be a right so and so and begrudge their partner anything or else make it such a compliment that their other half would rather go without.

Our correspondents point out that, if a person has been modest in their lifestyle and saved all their life instead of splashing it out on holidays, cars and expensive goods, they are punished by the State for being frugal and saving for a rainy day. They maintain that, if a person has paid their dues, they should be assessed as individuals and not be nicely told to ‘feck off’ because their partner still has a job.

I have no expertise or detailed knowledge in this area but, to me, it doesn’t seem to make sense and does seem unfair. Whatever the truth of it, there are certainly a lot of very bitter and resentful people out there.

Putting the ‘Fun’ into Dungarvan

There has been mixed reaction to the suggestion from a leading media executive who proposes that Dungarvan should change its name officially to Fungarvan for the summer months. The suggestion comes from public-relations expert, Ian Noctor, who was once a senior news executive in RTE Radio and now presents his own drivetime show on Waterford Local Radio each weekday evening. Apparently, Ian’s suggestion enjoys a lot of support in his home town and has already been discussed in committee by Dungarvan Town Council which is taking the matter very seriously.

Ian believes, and we would all agree with him, that Dungarvan is a fabulous place with wonderful amenities but, in order to attract attention and tourists, it needs to stand out from the crowd. He said many locals already referred to the town affectionately as ‘Fungarvan’ and an official name change for the summer months would be a ‘bright, breezy and quirky’ news story that would make national and international headlines. Hmmmmm, does that mean that, during the summer months, singers will be obliged to change the title of Mai O’Higgins’ famous ballad to ‘Fungarvan My Home Town’?

Big business in Little China

Waterford already has considerable contacts with China and there is an ongoing student programme in operation involving WIT. But it looks like our friends in County Westmeath are on the cusp of pulling of a business coup with one of the world’s biggest economies that will be envy of everybody if it comes to fruition.

Apparently, discussions are at an advanced state between a group of Chinese investors and Westmeath County Council and formal announcements are expected in October or November. The plan is to create a permanent Trade Fair for Europe showcasing Chinese products and goods on a large site at Creggan on the outskirts of Athlone. According to sources, some 2000 Chinese workers and executives will move into the area but thousands of additional jobs are also expected to be created.

The scale of the proposed development is said to be far beyond anything ever witnessed before in the Midlands and has the potential to utterly change the face of Athlone. Chinese investors also considered other Western European locations but, in the end, decided to opt for an English-speaking country.

Former Minister, Deputy Mary O’Rourke, revealed this week that she had met the investors eighteen months ago and had been given a detailed presentation on the proposed development. She said that, at the time, the Chinese businessmen were also looking at sites in Germany, Belgium and England.

When tables are turned

A man escaped from a prison where he had been locked up for 15 years, often in solitary confinement. He made it to the nearest town in the early hours of the morning and broke into a house through an unlocked back-door.

Creeping upstairs, he found a young couple in bed and, brandishing an iron bar, he ordered the man out of bed and tied him to a chair. He then kissed the terrified woman’s neck and whispered something in her ear before going into the bathroom.

While he was in the bathroom, the husband hissed at his wife: “Listen, this guy is an escaped convict. He’s probably spent a lot of time in jail and hasn’t seen a woman in years. I saw how he kissed your neck. If he wants sex, for God’s sake don’t resist, don’t complain, do whatever he tells you. Satisfy him no matter how much he nauseates you. This guy is obviously very dangerous. If he gets angry, he’ll kill us both. Be strong, honey, do it for both of us. I love you.”

Frightened and all as she was, the woman hissed back: “When he whispered in my ear, he told me he was gay and that he thinks you’re real cute. Remember what you said. Be strong, honey, and do it for both of us. I love you.”