The Mahon Tribunal continued with its probing last week and while I have no comment to make at this stage about the overall situation and its possible findings, I am pretty sure I wasn’t the only one uncomfortable about the ordeal endured by the Taoiseach’s former secretary, Grainne Carruth.

Prior to Ms. Carruth’s appearance, we saw a number of witnesses with dreadful memories who told the Tribunal they simply could not recollect certain events. “Sorry, I wish I could remember but I can’t and that’s that”, they said apparently without a bother on them. Perhaps I am not correct but I do not remember any of those witnesses being reduced to tears or of being threatened with the possibility of jail as a consequence of their amnesia.

In fairness to the senior counsel for the Tribunal, Mr. Des O’Neill, it may be that the previous witnesses were made of sterner stuff than Ms. Carruth. It has also been said by some seasoned Tribunal commentators that Mr. O’Neill did the decent thing and could have been much tougher with the former secretary.

All the same, perception is everything and I have often said that the people of this country are no fools when push comes to shove. The sight of a terrified woman, who worked as a lowly paid secretary in the Taoiseach’s constituency office and clearly innocent of any wrongdoing, being so frightened and upset by an organ of the State will, without doubt, have registered with a great many people and there will almost certainly be consequences as a result.

It remains to be seen how, where and against what or whom the public’s displeasure will be eventually manifested but, be assured, it will happen.

Lean times for turf cutters and mountain farmers

As far as I know, there are very few people cutting turf on the Comeraghs these days but, even if there are a few hardy souls who enjoy gathering in their own winter fuel, their days would appear to be numbered.

Turf-cutters all over the country have been informed that, once this year’s Spring season is completed, they will not be able to cut turf any more on bogs that are designated as special areas of conservation. The EU Habitats Directive was actually announced in 1999 but local cutters were allowed ten more years to gather turf for domestic purposes from the 32 designated bogs.

Over half the 32 bogs in question are in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon where there is mounting anger at the situation. Incidentally, farmers who keep sheep on mountain ranges have also been hit by a different EU directive to protect the Red Grouse. If the Red Grouse is a resident on your patch of mountain, you will have to find alternative accommodation for your animals for five months during the winter and spring.

Marauding dogs

On the subject of sheep farming, I saw a most distressing photograph last week of the carcasses of 2 ewes and 23 lambs that were killed by two marauding dogs. The dogs had been responsible for five separate attacks on sheep in the previous week and constituted a serious menace. One was a Sheep Dog and the other a Golden Labrador and no doubt their owners would not believe that their pets could wreak such havoc. If you own a dog, please make sure it is not running loose, especially at night.

Don’t ever mess with two hair dressers!

Conmen break the law and diddle people out of their money which is not funny but, nevertheless, I had to smile at the exploits of a chancer who recently had a field day in Drogheda.

As many people will know, Drogheda United has achieved unprecedented success in recent seasons and locals are delighted with the situation and are basking in the team’s achievements. Those of us in Waterford with long memories know the feeling only too well so good luck to the Drogheda fans, long may they enjoy the buzz.

Recently, into this atmosphere of reflected glory, came a man, referred to only as ‘The Fantasy Footballer’. The young, athletic looking man told everybody he had recently played for Ipswich and Liverpool reserves and had been signed by Drogheda United to strengthen their team. He also intimated that he was engaged to the daughter of a prominent businessman and that he had invested in a Dublin pub.

The man had a lot of minor successes although he failed in his attempt to complete a deal with a local garage for the purchase of a top of the range car. He was also rumbled when he tried to borrow a substantial amount of money from a publican to ‘tide him over the weekend’.

But, apparently, he was also quite a hit with the local ladies and his cover was finally blown when he tried to date not one but two stylists from the town’s Moda Vida Hair Salon. A third staff member with United connections rang the club when she became suspicious and he was exposed as a fraud. A spokesperson for Drogheda United said the person had no connection with the club and the gardai had been alerted to the situation. Something tells me they’ll be searching for a long time before they catch up with The Fantasy Footballer!

The oldest regional newspaper

Congratulations to our colleagues in The Connaught Telegraph newspaper in Castlebar, County Mayo, which, this week, celebrated 180 years in existence.

The Telegraph claims to be the oldest regional newspaper in continuous circulation in this country. The first copies rolled off the presses in the town’s Cavandish Lane on March 17th., 1828 and have been doing so ever since. Its founder was a Lord Frederick Cavandish who was a champion of the poor and oppressed and he used his pen and his newspaper to promote the Nationalist ideal.

Tom Gillespie is the present day editor of the newspaper and his great, great grandfather, Richard Gillespie, was foreman at the plant during Lord Cavandish’s period of ownership.

The editor says the paper is one of the few independent, family owned newspapers still in existence and, free of the shackles of corporate ownership, it will continue to champion the many causes of its readers.

The Munster Express is another of those final few, stand-alone newspapers that remain independent and family owned and next year, please God, we will be celebrating 150 years of unbroken service.

Bertie and George

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was visiting President George Bush in Washington on Saint Patrick’s Day and it was arranged that, after the Taoiseach had presented the President with a shamrock filled Waterford Crystal bowl, they would travel the short distance together to a reception at the Irish Embassy.

President Bush said: “Mr. Bertie, Sir, you have been Prime Minister of Ireland for a long time and you are soon to address both our houses of elected representatives so, in your honour, I have ordered that we will travel to your embassy in an open-topped, horse drawn carriage with full ceremonial honours.”

Bertie thanked George profusely and, as a military band played ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ they walked together across a red carpet on the White House lawn to where an open, 17th century coach, hitched to six, magnificent, white horses was waiting. As they travelled towards the embassy there were thousands of tourists lining the streets and they clapped and waved as the carriage went past. Indeed, many spectators were waving Irish tricolours that an advance party of White House staff had handed out minutes earlier.

Everything was going swimmingly well until, suddenly, the right rear horse emitted the most horrendous, earth-rending, eye-smarting blast of gastronomic flatulence ever heard.

Hardly able to draw a breath in the contaminated atmosphere, George blushed and said: “My good friend, Mr. Bertie, Sir, please accept my apologies but I’m sure you understand that there are some things that even a President cannot control.”

“Yerrah, will you go away out of that and don’t be worried”, said Bertie, giving George a friendly dig on the arm. “Don’t give it a second thought. Anyway, if you hadn’t mentioned it I would have thought it was one of the horses.”