Prior to last week, if I had been asked to list the top five Irish cities in terms of population, I would have said Dublin, Cork and Limerick with Galway and Waterford battling it out for fifth place. Technically, I would have been wrong.

Galway has soared ahead and several years ago it overtook Limerick to become the Republic’s third largest city. According to the 2006 census figures, Galway’s population was 72,414, Limerick 52,389 with Waterford in fifth place with 45,748 residents.

However, the figures are misleading because the densely populated Limerick estates of Castletroy, Dooradoyle and Raheen are technically in Limerick County while Westbury and Shannon Banks are technically in County Clare. If the 100,000 people living in those areas, already considered to be part of Limerick city, were formally included within the urban circle then Limerick would leapfrog over Galway back into third place. The battle for a boundary extension is already underway and it is every bit as bitter as the Waterford-Kilkenny scenario.

Growth of outlaw motorcycle gangs

Like most people, I have many friends who are motorcycle enthusiasts and many of these ‘bikers’ spend a lot of time organising and participating in charity projects so I stress that the following article has nothing to do with them.

It turns out that, as police forces across Europe struggle to cope with various levels of lawlessness including violent gun and drug crime, there is disturbing news of a new threat. Europol, which has responsibility to monitor threats from organised crime and terrorism in Europe, has identified a significant rise in outlaw motorcycle gang activity

According to Europol, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) such as Bandidos and Hells Angels are already present throughout the European Union and, recently, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) has significantly expanded its presence.

Those motorcycle riders, who do not abide by the law, refer to themselves as ‘one percenters’. Most of these OMCG members adopt a multi-crime approach that includes racketeering and extortion, violent crimes such as homicide, grievous bodily harm, organised robbery, fraud and financial crime. They also engage in the trafficking of firearms and explosives, trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation and drug trafficking.

Europol says Hells Angels’ members have been involved in the full range of organised crime activities, in particular the production and distribution of cannabis and methamphetamine and they have a solid position in the cocaine market.

New alliances

New alliances between outlaw motorcycle gangs mean that they now have the capability and capacity (infrastructure, relationships, resources and experience) to manage drugs trafficking via South–East Europe using the ‘Balkan Route’, which sees Turkey as an anchor point and major staging area for onward transportation of hard drugs.

In establishing its territorial influence in South–East Europe, Hells Angels have built close relationships with local OMCGs in Albania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And they have established their own presence in Turkey. Additionally, a large number of former German Bandidos Motorcycle Club members of Turkish origin recently defected to the Hells Angels.

Europol warns that one of the most serious threats associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs is their tendency to use extreme violence which is aggravated by their willingness to use firearms and other higher calibre weapons. They often exploit and invest in legitimate business structures for a wide variety of purposes including money laundering and fraud or as fronts for other illegal activities.

Europol says the lack of knowledge concerning the precise number of outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the nature of their relationships with other gangs, represents an important intelligence gap that needs to be addressed by national authorities.

The EU force is now asking police in Northern and Western Europe to directly assist in response to the threat by monitoring the travel movements of OMCG members. Senior officers say the rise in the growth of outlaw motorcycle gangs calls for an integrated approach to further enhance intelligence on the spread of the gangs’ criminal activities.

A big stinger!

People love to walk the beaches at this time of year but the authorities are warning strollers to be careful if they come across giant jellyfish because, even if they are dead, they can still give a very nasty sting.

In recent weeks there have been several sightings along the east coast of the venomous and much feared Lion’s Mane jellyfish that can grow to eight feet in diameter. Its natural habitat is the colder waters of the North Atlantic but it is now not unknown in Irish coastal waters.

Last weekend, one of the giant creatures washed up on a beach in New Hampshire in the United States and over one-hundred people, whose curiosity got the better of them, received nasty, painful stings.

What causes people to have arthritis?

A man who had enjoyed a few drinks too many in the station bar boarded the Dublin to Waterford train and sat down next to a well known parish priest who wasn’t at all pleased to have such company in close proximity.

The drunk made several efforts to engage the priest in conversation but it soon became clear to him that the priest just wasn’t interested. The inebriated man then produced a magazine from his coat pocket and began reading.

“Excuse me Father”, he asked after a few minutes, “sorry to bother you but what causes arthritis.”

“A lot of the time, my son, it’s caused by loose living, too much alcohol and a total disregard for our fellow human beings”, snarled the priest who wished he could move to another seat but the train was packed.

“Well I’ll be”, muttered the man and, as his face turned red, it was obvious that he had been stunned and embarrassed by the priest’s angry response.

Normally a decent, kind man, the parish priest immediately regretted his outburst and apologised to the man. “I am very sorry for having snapped at you, my son, I’ve had a very tough day but that was no excuse for me to take it out on you. I apologise again and, tell me, how long have you been afflicted with arthritis.”

The man’s face flushed redder than ever. “Thank you for asking, Father, but I don’t have arthritis. I just read in my magazine that the poor old Pope has it bad.”