Sunday, October 25, 2009

Spot the Difference - homophone headaches

First there was this sign...

...then there was this one...

Can you spot the differences? Answers in the Comments box please!!!

These two wedding signs caught my pendantic eye some weeks back so I thought I'd share them with you. I know some of the readers of this blog are grammar and spelling anoraks like myself, always ready to gripe over a grammatical gaffe or spelling slip-up. I have already ranted here and here about language mangling and some hilarious posters.

These were obviously spotted fairly quickly but not before a costly sign had gone up by the hotel entrance. To spare their blushes I won't reveal their identity, and in all fairness they have resolved the problem quite quickly.

It was noted by a few people who commented on it, but I have seen mistakes like these homonym and homophone errors so often lately that may creep into such common usage to become acceptably interchangeable. It will probably continue to be a pet peeve and put me up there (or their) with Lynn Truss and John Humphrys in the language policing stakes.

Apart from these glitches, the venue is great and I have no doubt that it offers good value. The total package is around €5,000 for what's listed, and I think this is reflecting recession times for all you wannabee brides out there.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Champagne Socialists on the town - bargain-basement fine dining

I had a very enjoyable day at the Labour Women's Conference last Saturday, and I have already blogged about it in my previous post here. After all the hard work was over, and the delegates left the Mansion House, those of us in the Waterford delegation who were staying in Dublin decided to head for a bite to eat. Half jokingly we said how about somewhere like Marco Pierre White's - and found that research had already been conducted which revealed that as it was Dine in Dublin week, we could actually afford to eat in places we could previously only have dreamed of eating in!

What this meant was that dinner in a posh place like this was discounted to €20 or €30 for a four-course meal with tea or coffee. Now that was more like it. I rarely eat out at night, and at most would eat lunch in a bar or restaurant with colleagues once every few weeks. I usually bring a sandwich and fruit to work and occasionally have something from the Naked Lunch van at the Dungarvan Farmer's Market on Thursdays - they have spicy lamb burgers to die for and their sausage rolls are equally tasty - but that's weather permitting when you can sit out and pretend you are on some continental terrace instead of in the square in Dungarvan!

We were shown some of the wonderful reception rooms in the Mansion House by our hosts for the day, the Labour Lord Mayor Emer Costello and her husband Joe, who's a Labour TD (is he the Lady Mayoress, we wondered?) We got a glimpse into the somewhat surreal life of the Lord Mayor, who receives visiting dignitaries in these imposing rooms, including all visiting ships' captains - as the head of Dublin Port. There is a Lady Mayoress's drawing room where Joe can hang out.

Back to posh dining. We had left it way too late to book and didn't think we'd a hope of a table, but the recession must have left its mark as we were immediately shown to a table on the terrace which was cosy and warm with lots of wall heaters, and nice ambient lighting. Our corner table which was perfect for people-spotting, and we had a lovely dinner, with plenty of variety on the menu.

I had the gravadlax starter, posh fish'n'chips with mushy peas and a delicious sauce and Eton Mess for dessert. The latter was new in name for me, as it's simply meringue, strawberries and cream mixed together in a sticky, crunchy melt-in-the-mouth...mess. We found the service good and the staff friendly and professional, which is infinitely preferable to the snooty aloofness that can be found in uber-pretentious eateries that have got a bit above themselves from their celebrity chef links.

The Waterford Labour women were out for an enjoyable evening and we had good "craic" (which is not what it sounds for the uninitiated) and took some funny photos of each other as well as the food. After coffee or tea we headed off to our different destinations.

I got the bus back to "de Nortsoide", home of the Spire, with its myriad witty nicknames, and Big Jim Larkin on the photos. It's also that pariah state that's such anathema to the fictional Southsider Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, as well as home to our former Taoiseach and wannabee Presidential candidate, Bertie Ahern, the self-proclaimed Socialist.

We certainly put the social back into Socialist last weekend.

Photos show Jane, Dee, Lorna and me enjoying our night out, and the menu, and my dishes, as well as the Spire and Big Jim Larkin

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Labour Women's National Conference - and Waterford Labour Women's Collective Debut.

Last Saturday I went to my first Labour Women's National Conference in the Oak Room of the Mansion House in Dublin. This is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, a post which is happily currently held by not only a Labour Lord Mayor but a woman, Emer Costello, who is also a Dublin City Councillor. So the conference was on home ground with a political colleague, who is active in Labour Women. We have recently formed a group of Labour women in Waterford, from different branches in the constituency, and we held our inaugural meeting last month. We sent five delegates to the Conference, and proposed three motions which we felt were relevant to women's issues at this time.

Waterford Labour Women with the Party Leader. Back row: me, Cllr. Ciara Conway, Deirdre Jacques; Front row: Lorna, Eamon Gilmore TD, Jane Jermyn

One of the motions was on the proposal to cut child benefit to save 20% on its annual cost, as recommended in the recent Bord Snip Nua/McCarthy Report along with other swingeing cuts that will impact unfavourably on the poor and vulnerable in our society. Such a retrograde step would be hugely negative given that it is the only universal payment to women that keeps them financially independent and ensures equality for all children.

The Mansion House, Dublin

Another motion concerned the new childcare funding that replaces the annual payment for all children under six - it is inadequate in that it doesn't fund sufficient hours of childcare and it does not reflect the real cost of childcare in a registered creche, which is where the grant must be allocated. This sector has already been hit by cuts in subvention to poorer women and children in back to education and training schemes, and this grant will not help if its subvention is inadequate.

Dee speaking on election to the National Women's Executive, with Sinéad looking on.

Our final motion was one proposed by me - one I feel passionate about as it concerns women's health - on the government's unilateral withdrawal in November 2008 of the planned cervical cancer vaccine that was proposed in August 2008 for all 12 year-old girls in the State. This was hugely emotive and caused outrage, particularly as it was already too little too late, given that we were way behind other civilised countries in having no cervical cancer screening programme until last month.

Also, the recommended cervical cancer vaccine catch-up programme for 13-15 yr old girls was not taken up by the government, despite the UK having implemented a catch-up programme for all 13-18 yr old girls. The total cost was a paltry €10million annually for the 12 yr olds, and the catch-up would have cost a once-off €29.2million. But this was deemed unaffordable in the current climate.

Cllr. Ciara Conway speaking

In fact the Revised Programme for Government agreed by the Greens at their Party Conference a week ago talked about expansion of the Cervical Cancer Vaccine “at the earliest opportunity, in accordance with clinical priorities” - I wonder how you can expand something that doesn't exist already? Shows their priorities and skill at double-speak.

What led to my proposing this motion was the recent announcement of the plan to introduce postcodes to all households in Ireland, at a cost of €10-15million, and juxtaposed against the cervical cancer vaccine withdrawal it seemed obscenely inappropriate. Ireland may be the only country in Europe not to have postcodes, but our quaintly unique townlands address system has worked for years and could surely ride out the economic crisis. This was another Green plan, along with (to add insult to injury to the women of Ireland) the plan to stop badger culling by - you guessed it I'm sure - vaccinating them! The Greens must have lost all sense of irony that they didn't see the ridicule this would heap on them by even the most ardent animal-rights activists, and indeed they tried to downplay and even deny that they were pushing for badger vaccination, just an alternative to culling. This would seem to be the only alternative, though, as how else would you stop badgers being a TB hazard to cattle?

Joan Burton TD, Deputy Leader, addresses the conference, with Ivana Bacik seated
Below: Coffee break - Dee, Jane and Lorna

So that gives you an idea of our input to the Conference. It was a very interesting day, with a lot of good speakers, and an address by the man of the moment and hopefully Ireland's next Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Eamon Gilmore, the Labour Party leader. The theme of the Conference was parity in political life - how to increase women's representation and presence in public office, how to increase the number of women candidates for election and how to strengthen our current position of having the highest proportion of women TDs of all the parties, at 22% compared to the Dáil (parliament) with 14%. So this generated a lot of heated debate, with diverse opinions on a quota system promoting a gender-proofing "affirmative action" type plan. It was all very positive and the format encouraged open debate and contributions from the floor, indeed it was well structured but less formal than the main conference partly because of the numbers and the intimate venue.

Eamon Gilmore TD, and Sinéad

Joan Burton TD, Deputy Leader and party spokesman on finance addressed the gathering, as did Senator Ivana Bacik, both formidable women with a long history of activism and advocacy on feminist and family issues. The guest speaker was well-known writer, journalist and commentator, Susan McKay,currently head of the National Women's Council of Ireland. The outgoing Chair of Labour Women, Sinéad ní Chualacháin, presided over the Conference. We could have filled the day with debates on the various motions from all the contributors, and there was plenty of networking and a chance to meet with the other delegates at the end of the day.

Ivana Bacik, Susan McKay and Sinéad ni Chualacháin

All in all, it was a great day and I am really proud to be a member of a party and a group of women with a level of conviction and moral outrage as was shown at the conference at the injustices in today's society. Contrary to Margaret Thatcher's assertion that there is no such thing as society, only individuals and families, most people want to live in a society. Yet it is hard to escape the feeling that right now we live in an economy; we are being shown by the present government that their priority is solely focused on economic recovery, irrespective of the cost to society and the people of the country.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Goodbye to a legend and an old friend

Last week Aengus Finucane passed away. He was a Holy Ghost missionary priest who helped found what grew to become Ireland's internationally renowned charity, Concern Worldwide, back in the days of the Biafra famine in the failed secession war against Nigeria. We joined hundreds of friends and his family on Friday last to pay tribute to a great man who became a household face and name not just in Ireland but in the many countries where Concern had a presence.

Ironically for an organisation that was founded and headed by a priest for so many years it was the first Irish NGO to be avowedly non-denominational. It worked to benefit the poorest of the poor in all the various countries in which it worked and the beneficiaries and staff were of all religions and none. It never was a factor, nor should it be. Aengus was a larger than life figure, a genuine humanitarian and he made Concern strive to achieve its slogan of the 70s - Love in Action.

Concern has played a huge part in our family's life. I met my hubby Jan when we were both young volunteers with Concern in Bangladesh in the late 1970s and Concern and our paths have been inextricably intertwined ever since. Aengus was my boss when I went to Bangladesh where he was then Field Director, and after Bangladesh he bacame the Chief Executive of Concern in Dublin from 1981 - 1997.

After Bangladesh we got married and went to Tanzania with another NGO, the Swiss-based Lutheran World Federation, which was a familiar career path for former Concern volunteers, as many of them were now working in various LWF fields. After 6 years in Tanzania we took a break while Jan did a MSc in Development Economics in Swansea, and it was Aengus who interviewed him for his next post, as Country Director for Concern in Tanzania.

We spent 6 more fulfilling and happy years in Iringa and Dar-es-Salaam and then transferred to Lao PDR for another two and a half years with Concern . In all that time and subsequently we maintained links with Aengus through our ongoing involvement and interest in Concern and its activities. We are both members of Concern, Jan is on the Concern Council, and we have kept in touch with our many Concern friends over the years, both at home and abroad. Aengus baptised our youngest child 13 years ago during our home leave from Laos, and we have a lovely video of that day.

Last year Concern celebrated its 40th Anniversary with a huge reunion in Croke Park in Dublin, where hundreds of people from all corners of the world gathered to reminisce and remember the wonderful times they had in their time and involvement with Concern. While the organisation was at the forefront of so many tragedies and landmark events in the past 40 years, from the famine in Biafra to the misery of Darfur, and the Rwandan genocide among the most notorious, there are many moments to treasure, whether the impact was on one person or a whole community.

It is true what his brother Fr. Jack said when celebrating his funeral mass - that Aengus was part of three families - his own family, the Holy Ghost family, and the Concern family. His funeral was truly a celebration of his life and the many moving tributes on radio, TV and both the Irish and International press were a testament to that life fully lived.

May he rest in peace, in the knowledge that his impact on the lives of so many people will live on for many years and he will not be forgotten.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spam alert for ad-free blogs - how to prevent it?

I was a bit peeved today to get a comment on my Lisbon Treaty blog post which I wasn't able to verify as a genuine blogger before posting the comment to my blog. When I did check I discovered the person's name - which looked like a genuine name - actually linked me to a vacation rental website in Florida.

Now that is a bit devious and I didn't like it so I made a footnote on my comments that I would have to enable comment moderation. Of course when I checked my settings I already had enabled comment moderation and also word verification. Apologies to anyone who was puzzled by my comment.

So I guess it was a genuine person not an automated response - but I didn't think it fair to link to a commercial website. It happened before - someone commented on my mugs from Barcelona post and when I clicked it was a private Blogger site but there was a link at the end of the post comment to a commercial site selling electronic goods.

That's all -my gripe of the day, just to warn people out there that this is going on, in case it happens to you. Just reject these when they occur. Here is a piece on the rise of blog comment spam; it seems to be ubiquitous.

I don't try to earn cash from my blog - that's why it's ad-free. Nor am I advocating censorship but I blog for fun, and don't want to get spammed!

A resounding victory - Ireland says YES to Lisbon Treaty

It's all over and yes, Ireland has voted YES to ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. I wrote my last post about this and how divisive it had become in the weeks running up to Friday's vote. I am delighted with the result - the polling went on yesterday from 7.00a.m. until 10.00p.m. and the count started this morning at 9.00a.m.

A group of Labour women campaigning for a Yes vote - Joan Burton TD (Deputy Leader), Joanne Tuffy TD, Roisín Shortall TD and Mary Upton TD are those I recognise (TD = MP)

It was clear from about 10.00a.m. this morning that the Yes vote was coming through and by lunchtime it was all over - a resounding victory for the Yes vote, with a 67% majority in favour, and only 2 out of 43 constituencies voting No and then marginally. Ironically these were both in Mary Coughlan, the Tánaiste's (Deputy Prime Minister) constituency of Donegal, a border county near Northern Ireland. Mary has had quite a time of it lately so this can't help her reputation as a lightweight politician who is out of her depth as deputy leader, having inherited her seat at a young age and coasting along without real challenge in her roles to date. (A recent gaffe included crediting Einstein as having developed the theory of evolution!)

This says it all!

I was surprised at the strength of the Yes victory and while we are all delighted there is no gloating or triumphalism because the issue was bigger than the government - all the main opposition parties united with the government coalition in promoting a Yes vote with the exception of Sinn Féin who were staunchly opposed. The No side are poor losers and have been trenchant in their condemnation of the result. This is in stark contrast to their mantra of listening to the will of the people that they have been preaching during the campaign. Their biggest gripe was that the country voted No to Lisbon in June 2008 and therefore had spoken - and there was no need to put the vote to the people again, that that was treating them like recalcitrant children who needed to be taught a lesson until they got it right.

My argument with that is that the first referendum in 2008 was flawed in that there was a very poor information campaign with it so most people didn't know what they were voting on. This gave the No camp a clear field for scaremongering and they made the most of it, fomenting lies and fear that euthanasia and abortion would be available and foisted on a hapless populace if we went along with the EU constitution. The fact that God doesn't feature in the constitution was another bone of contention, notwithstanding the wish of most countries to keep a separation between Church and State.

The Guardian (UK) reports on the Irish vote - the British are notoriously Eurosceptic at the moment but Ireland is a different story

We have a history of changing our minds politically and I don't think Ireland or the Irish should make any apology for this. People change as do circumstances, and the fact that we voted No last year shouldn't close the door on another chance to vote.
In 2001 we voted No in the first Nice Treaty - about expanding the EU to include new accession states in Eastern Europe. Back to the drawing board and in 2002 we voted Yes to the Nice Treaty.

Likewise with Lisbon. Change often comes slowly - granted, after last year's No the government got reassurances on the issues concerning the doubters - specifically on abortion and our sacred cow of neutrality, as well as retaining a Commissioner - a voice at the top table.

Don't forget Ireland voted No to Divorce back in 1986 again based on fears fomented by the right and supported openly by the Catholic Church that Irish women would lose their homes, and family farms would be ruined by the prospect of gold-digging second wives disinheriting the destitute first family. Of course that was all nonsense as the legislation was there to protect the first family/ex-spouse. And in 1995 Divorce was voted into the Irish Constitution and gave a second chance to the thousands of people in the limbo of separation who could now remarry and not worry about the status of their new families in law.

So there seems to be a tradition of recognising that circumstances and people are dynamic and evolving and in that case there is always a good argument for having a second chance - not just a woman's prerogative to change her mind, but a citizen's!

Ironically, Dutch hubby - while advocating a Yes vote and present as a tallyman at the Waterford count centre - was not eligible to vote in this Constitutional Referendum; it is only open to citizens of Ireland to have a say in Constitutional matters.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fear and Loathing from NO campaigners - a Good Reason for Voting YES!

It's Friday October 2nd and this can only mean one thing in Ireland - Polling Day for the Lisbon Treaty 2009. This is a controversial treaty which has led to much debate which has descended into bitter squabbling with scaremongering allegations from opposing sides.

The country's roadsides are once again littered with Yes and No Posters - and it is generally agreed that the No posters have been spreading lies and fear, particularly those from an odious and shadowy group that go by the name of Cóir. They appear to be the grown-up wing of that group of far-right activists known as Youth Defence, whose tactics have been roundly condemned in the past. They purport to be a Pro-Life anti-abortion pro-family organisation but they have picketed politician's houses in the past where the views or opinions didn't fit with their rather fanatical philosophies. Many of the No campaigners are staunchly xenophobic and use this to promote their cause, citing the possibility of further waves of immigration to our shores from undesirables from poor countries should Ireland vote Yest to Lisbon Treaty.

Libertas and their leader Declan Ganley have been around since the first Lisbon Treaty Referendum last year - and they re-emerged for the European Elections to run candidates in every country, sure of their ground - only to suffer the ignominy of fading to oblivion when the electorate showed what they thought of them - one candidate in France got in on their platform, to the best of my knowledge. He then said that was the end of his political career, only to resurface last month for another swipe at the Lisbon Treaty. His shady funding sources have been a constant cause for discussion and his refusal to disclose them has lost him and his party credibility, as he is a millionaire businessman whose fortune was founded on communications for the US military in Iraq - though he tries to distance his business from his politics the Irish aren't fools.

Well most of us aren't , though there are many who would have us back in the dark ages of our pre-European entry days - Ireland before 1972 was not a pleasant place - it was church driven for all the wrong reasons - to exert control over a passive scared flock and to keep women in their place - tied to the home whether they liked it or not. Most of my friends overseas couldn't believe it when I told them of the ultimate sanction Ireland had in law against women - the Marriage Bar - which determined that women had to resign from most public service jobs on marriage!

This anachronism only disappeared after we joined Europe - and I am old enough to remember it, as I had many friends in the Civil Service when I was a student in Dublin, and spent many an evening at farewell parties for those who were leaving to get married! This shows a small snapshot of life in Ireland in living memory that to most civilised people would seem to be prehistoric.

This is one reason why I am so passionately pro-European. I haven't time here to go into all the other anachronisms that characterised Ireland in those days -mostly associated with sex - the lack of contraception, the illegality of homosexuality, the demonisation of pregnant unmarried mothers who were shipped off to Magdalen Laundries to be incarcerated as slave labourers - up to the 1990s - and the horrendous child abuse that was institutionalised and about which I wrote earlier in a post on the Ryan Report.

That's why the only sane vote today is a YES vote - for all the reasons I touched on above. The Irish Labour Party (of which I am a proud member) is also advocating a Yes vote. Needless to say I am proud to be a European as well as Irish - I don't believe they are mutually exclusive and indeed I like to think we are all global citizens as human beings - the world would be a better place if there was less ardent nationalism - we have seen where it led us in the last century and the European Union's lasting legacy has been the longest period of peace in Europe in recorded history