Readers might be interested to know that the FBI is offering a reward of one-million dollars for information leading to the arrest of one of the United States’ most wanted criminals who is believed to be hiding out in this country.

The fugitive in question is 78-year-old James ‘Whitey’ Bulger who is on America’s ‘Ten Most Wanted’ list and has been on the run since 1995. He was the leader of the ‘Southie’ gang in Boston and is wanted for questioning in connection with 19 murders, drug trafficking and extortion.

Bulger was recently spotted in Sicily but Interpol officers believe he may now be in Ireland. Several of his US associates are known to have property in Kerry and Cork and are regular visitors to the region. The fugitive has other contacts in this country as he was the man who provided the arms for the IRA that were seized when the ‘Marita Ann’ was intercepted in September 1984.

Bulger is said to be an avid reader and loves to visit libraries and historic sites and also enjoys walking on beaches and in parks with a female companion. Though elderly, he is considered to be extremely dangerous and probably armed and, therefore, should not be approached by members of the public.

Mad driving

There were two particular cases of erratic driving before the courts last week that indicate the cavalier attitude still adopted by some motorists.

The first case was in Naas District Court where a man was charged with careless driving on the N7. The court heard that the defendant, who was carrying three children in the back seat, was wearing industrial strength ear-muffs and wasn’t aware that an ambulance and garda car with sirens wailing were trying to overtake him.

When the patrol car eventually got past, the garda driver alerted colleagues who later stopped the motorist who was still wearing his ear-muffs. The defendant said he sometimes wore ear-muffs as they helped him to concentrate on his driving and insisted that he could hear children talking and outside sirens while doing so.

When the defendant, who had no previous convictions, gave Judge William Hammill an undertaking never again to wear ear-muffs while driving and to donate 500 euro to charity, the careless driving charge was struck out.

The second case was heard in Virginia District Court. Superintendent Clancy told Judge Sean McBride that Garda Gallagher was on duty on the N3 when he observed a car approaching in an erratic manner. As the car passed by, the gardai could see that the driver was reading a newspaper that was spread out on the steering wheel.

The defence solicitor, Mr. Dolan, told the court his client, a Dublin man, had no previous convictions and was most embarrassed at the situation he found himself in and would never again indulge in such behaviour. Mr. Dolan also pointed out that the defendant was scanning the headlines in a tabloid newspaper and was not concentrating on an actual report.

When the defendant agreed to contribute 2,000 euro to a children’s playground, Judge McBride did not record a conviction.

Middle class
families feeling the
financial pinch

Sometimes, I think sections of the media can talk us all into a depression by unduly highlighting the possibility of recession, property crashes, etc. and I don’t want to fall into the same trap. However, there are a growing number of reports that many middle-class families are so up to their necks in debt that they are being forced to seek assistance from the various agencies and services.

Mortgage repayments and big credit-card bills are the primary source of concern. A national spokesperson for MABS, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, revealed last week that there had been a stark increase in the number of families seeking financial assistance during September and October and middle-class families were noticeable by their growing presence. The downturn in the economy was particularly affecting people with large mortgages whose safety net was gone because their credit-cards were ‘maxed out’, said the spokesperson.

MABS had been originally established to help social welfare recipients and lower income families but now people from a much wider range of the social spectrum were calling to their offices seeking help and advice. She added that feedback she was getting from MABS offices all around the country indicated that the problem was a national issue.

And still on the subject of doom and gloom, there is also evidence emerging that compulsive gambling is on the increase countrywide and that the addiction is taking a miserable toll on hundreds of families caught up in its grip. Every year in this country, hundreds of millions of euro are gambled of horse and dog racing, various Lotto games, slot machines, on-line poker and internet betting. It is taking a heavy toll on some families and Gamblers Anonymous has reported a significant increase in people coming forward seeking help for their addiction problem. That is very scary indeed.

Tough time for bakers

This is a tough time for bakers and skyrocketing overheads are threatening to put many bakeries out of business. Indeed, a number of local bakeries in various parts of the country have already closed their doors under pressure from a 70 per cent increase in wheat and flour in the year up to September. In the last six weeks alone, further increases of 30 per cent had been applied.

Paul Kelly of the Irish Bread Bakers Association said the cost of doing business in the current marketplace was becoming increasingly difficult. The bakery sector employed over 4,000 people countrywide and it was coming under threat from a combination of factors, most of them associated with global warming. European grain crops had been decimated by drought in the south and too much rain in the north while thousands of other farmers had opted to abandon traditional varieties in favour of bio-fuel crops.

A spokesperson for the IFA, Seamus Murphy, points out that the European grain mountain has been used up and, in many cases now, it is cheaper to burn grain than turn it into food. He said that the increases were also hitting pig, chicken and beef farmers and, in particular, pig producers had lost money on every animal they had produced in the last few months.

A heavy read

A drunk walked into the City Library at Lady Lane last week and aggressively slammed a book down on the counter. “Listen”, he shouted, “this is the worst book I’ve ever read. It has no plot and far too many characters.”

One of the assistants calmly picked the book up and gently chided the angry man. “Ah ha! So you’re the one that took our phone book.”