Speaking in the Dail last week, Deputy John Deasy outlined a few home truths that have needed to be said for a long time, namely that the fishermen of this country have been treated very badly by successive governments over the years. In fact, I believe it would be true to say that, in many cases, fishermen have been the victims of state bullying.
The main complaint is that, very often, fishing regulations were written into the law as criminal offences and unfortunate fishermen, who were otherwise law abiding citizens, ended up with criminal records as a result. Even the rules regulating specific landing ports for different sea catches were heavy-handed and, in some instances, plain stupid to the point of being dangerous.
I have many friends in the farming and agriculture sectors and they will know I am not getting at them when I say that the government didn’t dare treat farmers in such a heavy-handed manner. The farmers were, and are, a powerful lobby and the government is wary of their voting strength. Even when farmers went over the top with angry protests, no prosecutions followed. They blockaded bridges and roads all over the country upsetting thousands of people and there were no repercussions. Even when farmers went into supermarkets, tore products off shelves and loaded them into trolleys that were left in car-parks there were no knocks on their doors by police.
Compare that with, for instance, estuary fishermen, out in all weather in tiny punts. Even at the best of times, their catches were modest yet they were hauled before the courts if they were found in possession of a salmon caught outside the permitted hours. They received humiliating dressing downs from judges, heavy fines and criminal records. Rightly or wrongly, I always felt that there was a slight element of ‘the gentry dealing with local peasants’. Farmers were landowners, people of substance and the authorities were careful how they dealt with them while, for the most part, fishermen owned nothing. Fair? I think not.
The estuary fishermen and their craft that had endured for hundreds if not thousands of years are all but gone now, washed away in the name of progress. But we are still an island nation and it’s about time the government cherished the fishermen that are left, deep-sea or otherwise, and helped rather than hindered them. John Deasy is to be praised for standing up and saying what needed to be said. And, in fairness, over the years Brian O’Shea and Brendan Kenneally have also often spoken out in defence of local fishermen.
Hard times for publicans
Former Fine Gael government minister Ivan Yates, who is now an entrepreneur with a string of bookies shops to his name, had some interesting comments to make last week about the licensed trade.
Mr Yates thinks that the pub trade has been very badly treated to the point that licensed premises all over the country, including Dublin, are closing their doors and cannot be sold. He is convinced the recession and the decline in discretionary spending is only partly to blame for the situation. “For the most part”, he accuses, “it is ‘the regulators, bureaucrats and policy makers that have done for the pubs.” He lists the ban on smoking and too harsh drink-driving laws as the hammer blows.
I haven’t seen any statistics for Waterford but, last week, the Vintners Federation in Clare issued official figures showing that trade had dropped by a whopping 60 per cent in the last two years. It would appear that the only publicans that are thriving are the ones who went into battle with the supermarkets and opened off-licences.
A call from Downing Street
The Munster Express was only in the shops for a couple of hours on Wednesday morning last with a story that the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had a Waterford born ancestor when a call came through from Downing Street.
“Can you please hold for a call from the Prime Minister”, said a very officious sounding woman.
“Who does he want to talk to”, I replied. That seemed to throw her a little because she hesitated before hissing down the phone: “Please don’t be flippant. Mr Cameron wishes to speak to you Mr O’Connor and he is a very busy man so buck up and pay attention. Also be advised that you may address him as Prime Minister or Sir but under no account are you to be so familiar as to refer to him as David.” “Right ho”, said I and, even though she couldn’t see me, I dutifully tugged my forelock!
“Hi, this is David”, said the Prime Minister in a friendly tone, “thanks for taking my call, I got your number from Valerie in Nick Clegg’s office.” At this point, I should point out that Valerie Kirwan from Glenmore is the broadcast media press officer to Deputy Prime Minister Clegg.
“Good morning, Sir, congratulations on your election”, said I, even though I probably wouldn’t have voted for him given an opportunity. “Gosh, thanks, we have a rough ride ahead of us but, as we used to say in Eton, we’ll jolly well get there in the end.”
“The thing is, Mr O’Connor”, continued the Prime Minister in a conspiratorial tone, “we’re a bit anxious about your front-page story giving details of my maternal ancestor who was born in Waterford city.”
“Why would you worry about that”, I replied, ”she might have been a bit flighty but it was a very long time ago that she was a King’s mistress. That’s just an interesting little piece of history, nothing else, and it doesn’t reflect badly on you.”
“No, no, you don’t understand, all of us in the family are actually very proud of dear old Dorothea Jordan but, now that I’m Prime Minister, I have to find out if I have any living relatives in Waterford”, he explained.
“Well”, said I, “there are a lot of Jordans in the phone book, some of them are probably your cousins.”
“I knew it, I just knew it”, he exclaimed, “I’m damn proud to have Irish blood coursing through my veins and what I want to do now is organise a party in Waterford where we can all meet up and get to know each other.”
“Jordan’s American Bar on The Quay would be a good venue for a family reunion”, I suggested and, when I told him that former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was a regular visitor there, he was delighted. I looked up the phone book, got Andy Jordan’s number and passed it on to him.
“Super, duper”, said Mr Cameron, “I look forward to seeing you at the bash. Will Mr Jordan be able to put on a buffet with pigs’ trotters, bacon ribs and cabbage plus some good old Irish traditional music?”
“Prime Minister, if you pay for it, I’m sure Andy will get you whatever you require”, I assured him.
“Well, thank you so much. It’s been nice talking to you and I hope we’ll see you and your lady wife at the party”, he said and the line went dead. I’ve checked with Andy Jordan several times since the call and, so far, no booking has been made. I‘ll keep you informed.
Best of a bad situation
“My wife has had her credit card stolen”, said Jim to Tom. “God, that’s awful. Have you informed the bank”, said Tom. “I don’t think I will”, said Jim to his friend, “so far, the thief is spending far less than Mary.”