Category Archives: Business & Environment

Ireland offers the world a bid and a bank

These two stories are related only in terms of Ireland offering itself to the world, albeit in vastly different ways. Readers are welcome to share their quips about any similarities of banking and rugby. MH

An initial public offering for 25 percent of state-owned Allied Irish Banks has opened on the Dublin and London stock exchanges. The bank was nationalized in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The government stepped in with a €21 billion ($23.50 billion) taxpayer bailout. The IPO is expected to raise €3 billion. As Reuters reports:

A successful flotation would mark another milestone in a dramatic turnaround from a banking and fiscal crisis that wrecked the country’s economy a decade ago. … One of Ireland’s two dominant banks, AIB returned to profit three years ago. It has cut its huge stock of impaired loans by more than two-thirds since then, and this year it became the first domestically owned lender to restart dividends since the crash.

Meanwhile, Ireland also submitted its bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. The “Ready for the World” proposal calls for hosting matches at a dozen stadiums on both sides of the border.

France and South Africa are also vying for the tournament. World Rugby will announce the successful candidate in November.

Here’s the slick promotional video, narrated by Northern Ireland-born actor Liam Neeson:

 

Surf and turf: Beach reappears as wildfires spread

These two environmental stories caught my eye:

Dooagh Beach is back! The strand on the west side of Achill Island, Mayo, disappeared 33 years ago during a storm.  Now, a “freak tide” has deposited hundreds of tons of sand where for more than three decades there has been nothing but rocky tide pools.

This Smithsonian.com story links to other coverage.

Meanwhile, The Irish Times reports that 30 to 40 gorse fires are raging across the country. The majority of the fires are burning around the Border area and Roscommon and Sligo, but the most significant blaze is in Cloosh Valley in Galway, according to the Times.

The beach is back. Image by Sean Molloy/Achill Tourism Via Reuters.

E.U. would welcome the North in United Ireland

Northern Ireland will automatically join the European Union if voters on both sides of the 1921 partition agree to the island’s political reunification.

Leaders of 27 E.U. states agreed the decision at a 29 April Brussels summit called to prepare for the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc. Last June, U.K. voters approved Britain’s exit, or Brexit, by 52 percent to 48 percent. Nearly 56 percent of voters in Northern Ireland, however, supported remaining in the E.U.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged E.U. leaders for the commitment to welcome the six counties of the north. The approved statement is now being called the Kenny text:

The European Council acknowledges that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism whereby a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means.

In this regard, the European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union.

A vote on Irish reunification is not scheduled at this time, and it appears unlikely to happen anytime soon. “In my view, the conditions do not exist now for a Border poll,” Kenny said after the E.U. statement.

Kenny

The more immediate concern is resolving what happens with the border between Northern Ireland, as part of the departing U.K., and E.U.-member Republic of Ireland.

The border has been nearly seamless since the late 1990s, when military check points began to disappear with the easing of sectarian violence in the North. The biggest difference between the two countries is the change of currency, since the U.K. never adopted the Euro. On the Dublin to Belfast train last summer, I also noticed the automatic change of data carriers on my mobile device.

The is just one part of even thornier Irish-British trade issues.

Stormont deadline extended until June 29

In a related development this week, the U.K. parliament extended the deadline to form a new power-sharing executive in the Northern Ireland Assembly until June 29. Unionist and nationalist leaders have been unable to reach an accord since the 2 March election, in which the pro-reunification Sinn Féin party made dramatic gains in the assembly.

Since then, British PM Theresa May called for a 8 June snap election in the U.K. to bolster support for the Brexit negotiations. The election, which includes Northern Ireland, provided a handy and logical rational to delay the formation of the assembly executive.

Confused? This BBC Q & A should help.

Rooney & O’Reilly: Dead … and gone

I’ve been away from the blog for an Easter trip to Rome. During my absence, two Irish Americans made headlines for very different reasons:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney dies

In my native Pittsburgh and across most of America, Dan Rooney was best known as chairman of the NFL Steelers, the son of the team’s late and much beloved founder. But he also was U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from July 2008 to December 2012, a co-founder of The Ireland Funds, and principal benefactor of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

He died April 13 at age 84. His grandfather emigrated from Newry, County Down to Montreal, Canada, then moved to Ohio and Pittsburgh, where the late ambassador was born.

“Deeply committed to Ireland and the Irish people, he was always conscious of his Irish roots,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins told The Irish Times.  Said former U.S. President Barack Obama:

Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage. I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland thank fondly of him today.

Obama and Rooney, right, in 2014. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette image.

Bill O’Reilly ousted from Fox News

Conservative news anchor Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News Channel parted ways after 20 years in the wake of a New York Times exposé about the media company paying $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against the cable television ratings king.

O’Reilly describes the claims as “completely unfounded” and himself as the victim of “the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.”

His great-grandfather emigrated from Clonoose, County Cavan, according to a 2016 episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” O’Reilly also was a 2014 inductee in Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame.

The honor recognizes “the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.” Among 45 honorees since 2011: liberal cable television anchor Chris Matthews; former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and President Donald Trump’s Ambassador to Ireland nominee Brian P. Burns.

But not Dan Rooney, though the magazine has written about him.

I’ve reached out to the New York-based publication by email and Twitter to ask if they plan to keep O’Reilly among their honorees. Maybe they could switch him with Rooney. If you agree, contact the magazine at: @irishamerica, or submit@irishamerica.com.

2016 Census results detail modern Ireland

Ireland’s population increased to 4,761,865 in 2016, up 3.8 percent from 2011, according to data collected last year on the 100th anniversary of the start of the 1916 Easter Rising. The state had experienced 8 percent growth in the 2011, 2006 and 2002 census counts.

The proportion of the population who were non-Irish nationals fell to 11.6 percent in 2016 from 12.2 percent in 2011, the first decline since the census question was introduced in 2002. This is partially explained by a near doubling of people holding dual nationality, a separate category.

The 6 April data release is the first of 13 reports on Census 2016 that are due to be published this year. The Central Statistics Office will publish 11 thematic profiles, which will each explore topics such as housing, the homeless, religion, disability and carers in greater detail.

Highlights of the initial report include:

  • Self-identified Roman Catholics fell 3.4 percent, from 84.2 percent of the population in 2011 to 78.3 percent in 2016. Nearly 10 percent of census respondents said they have no religion.
  • The country is slightly older, with average age of 37.4 in April 2016 compared with 36.1 five years earlier. County Fingal, north of Dublin, had the youngest average age at 34.3, while Kerry and Mayo in the west were each at 40.2
  • The largest number of Irish speakers who use the language daily outside the education system remain concentrated in the Gaeltacht areas of counties Donegal, Galway and Kerry.
  • Private residences with no internet connection fell to 18.4 percent of dwellings, down from 25.8 percent in 2011.

Can Ireland’s latest planning strategy ease Dublin sprawl?

The Irish government has launched a strategic planning effort to determine what social, economic and environmental conditions might look like when the country’s youngest generation reaches adulthood.

The “Ireland 2040” plan will be “formed by the people’s views on the future shape of our country, its urban and rural places” Taoiseach Enda Kenny said in a 2 February release. He added the process will seek to “avoid the planning mistakes of the past.”

The latest effort succeeds the National Spatial Strategy, which had a 2002-2020 timeline. I reported on the plan in March 2002:

Irish government officials from Dublin traveled to Healy Memorial Park in Charlestown last fall (2001) to talk about Ireland’s ambitious sustainable development plan, called the National Spatial Strategy. The plan aims to better distribute Ireland’s growing population by making key infrastructure investments in second- and third-tier towns like Charlestown that now have little to attract and retain residents. In turn, the strategy hopes to ease overcrowding in Dublin.

At the time, Ireland was enjoying its “Celtic Tiger” phase, and nobody predicted the economic collapse of five years latter. None of the 20 towns designated to become Ireland fastest growing achieved such results, Housing Minister Simon Coveney told TheJournal.ie. The result of such predictive failure is probably best captured in this Irish Independent headline about the new plan: How Dublin is eating Ireland.

An Executive Summary and other documents can be found at the Ireland 2040 website.

This Irish Independent graphic explains the headline about Dublin eating Ireland and illustrates why the Republic needs better planning.

 

 

Ringling Circus closing: the Irish connection

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the “The Greatest Show on Earth,” is closing in May after 146 years of performances. High costs and dwindling attendance following an earlier decision to remove elephants from the show were cited as reasons. A 19th century form of entertainment couldn’t survive 21st century audiences.

Brothers John Ringling North and Henry Ringling North, heirs to the five founding Ringling brothers, sold the circus in 1967 to the current owners, ending more than 80 years of Ringling family control. The brothers became Irish citizens in the early 1960s, shortly after Henry purchased Northbrook, their father’s ancestral home, at Kilconnell, County Galway.

A collection of 1,200 books belonging to Henry was bequeathed to the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway in 2014.

An elephant wears a St. Patricks Day hat during the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Pachyderm Parade in Washington on March 17, 2009. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)

Irish passport applications surged in 2016

Ireland issued a record 733,060 passports in 2016, a 9 percent increase over the previous year.

The growth was fueled in part by a 40.6 percent jump in passport applications from Great Britain, to 64,996, and 26.5 percent bump from Northern Ireland, to 67,972.

These increases are largely attributed to “Brexit,” the June 2016 vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. (A majority of voters in Northern Ireland wanted to remain in the EU.) There are other reasons behind the overall surge in passport applications, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, said in 5 January release.

“There was a strong increase in demand for passports in the first half of the year,” he said. “This was due to a variety of factors including the fact that more Irish people traveled in the first half of the year; we also had the Euros Championships and a historical spike in applications from 2006 feeding through in the 10-year renewal cycle.”

An Irish passport confers the holder with travel and work privileges within the 27-nation EU, which the UK is now figuring out how to leave. People born in any of Ireland’s 32 counties, north or south, or those with a parent or grandparent born on the island, are eligible to apply for a passport from the Republic.

The Irish Consulate in New York had the highest single demand for passports, issuing 7,205 in 2016.  It was closely followed by Canberra, Australia, San Francisco and Sydney.

“I expect this trend to continue in the coming years,” Flanagan said.

Best of the Blog, 2016

The centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising and my sixth trip to Ireland made this a great year for the blog. Major elections in Ireland, the U.S. and the U.K. also produced outcomes that will have significant impacts for years to come. And there were other historical anniversaries and interesting contemporary developments. So let’s get right to the annual wrap-up:

Elections of 2016

  • In February, the national election in the Republic of Ireland ended in what Irish Times columnist Una Mullally described as a “weird, fractured, all-over-the-place result.” … In my ancestral home of County Kerry, brothers Michael and Danny Healy-Rae, both independents, took the top two of five seats in polling that ousted Fine Gael Minister of Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan and others. … It took until late April for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to reach a deal on forming a new minority government coalition.
  • A May vote on all 108 seats of the Northern Ireland Assembly resulted in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and [nationalist] Sinn Féin remaining the two largest blocks, “while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising,” the London-based New Statesman said. … Children born just before or after the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement began to turn 18 in 2016 and enter the electorate. 
  • In June, United Kingdom voters decided to leave the European Union by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, while the Northern Ireland electorate favored remaining in the E.U. by 56 percent to 44 percent. The so-called “Brexit” raises a number of tough questions about border controls with the Republic and the northern peace process. It has stirred talk of reuniting the island of Ireland, allowing the six northern counties to remain in the E.U. by joining the Republic.
  • For the second consecutive U.S. presidential election  cycle, two Irish-American candidates vied for the number two job. … Donald Trump’s victory drew harsh criticism from many Irish and Northern Irish political pundits as “America’s Brexit.” … Trump invited Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the White House for St Patrick’s Day in 2017, continuing a tradition that dates to 1952. Aside from the photo op, however, there are serious issues to discuss, such as the tax conditions of U.S. businesses operating in Ireland and Irish immigration.

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare with U.S., Irish and Trump flags.

Rising centennial

  • Sunday, 24 April was the calendar centennial of the start of the 1916 Easter Rising. It also was Census Day in Ireland, which revealed a changing, modernizing country. … The 100th anniversary generated plenty of opinions and interpretations in Ireland, the U.K., the U.S. and throughout the world.
  • I produced more than a dozen stories about 1916, including a five-part series on U.S.-Irish relations; Q & A style interviews with an Irish film producer and a U.S. archivist; and other original features. This work is gathered into the new 1916-2016 section of the blog.

Books about 1916 on the shelves at Eason & Son on O’Connell Street next to the General Post Office, epicenter of the rebellion. July 2016.

Other news and features

  • Irish tourism continued to grow in 2016, fueled in part by 1916 centennial. Fáilte Ireland suggested the market needs to continue “offering more compelling and authentic branded visitor experiences rather than relying on a hazy green image and warm welcome.” … In July, I visited the new, interactive Epic Ireland emigration museum in Dublin, then later contrasted it with the stalled effort to open an Irish American Museum in Washington, D.C. … I also visited Titanic Belfast, which was named the world’s leading tourist attraction for 2016. … For those considering a trip to Ireland, I published travel suggestions based on my visit. … I also introduced a new section of the blog featuring U.S. museums, libraries, cultural centers and programs devoted to Irish ancestry and contemporary connections.
  • 2016 was the 75th anniversary of the Belfast Blitz. … It also was a Leap Year, which marked the 128th (or only the 32nd) anniversary of the opening of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a personal interest of mine, on 29 February 1888.
  • New York drug maker Pfizer and Dublin-based Allergan called off their proposed $160 billion merger after the U.S. Treasury Department announced new steps to curb tax-avoiding maneuvers called “inversions.” … The European Union’s antitrust commission ordered Ireland to collect €13 billion ($14.5 billion) of back taxes from tech giant Apple.
  • Revolution in Color,” a 90-minute documentary told Ireland’s struggle for independence from Home Rule to Civil War through beautifully colorized archive newsreel and photos. … The Journey,” a new film about the unlikely Northern Ireland peace partnership between Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and the late unionist firebrand Rev. Ian Paisley, debuted to dreadful reviews. … Sonder Visuals produced a montage of drone-captured images of Ireland–rural and urban, natural and built–that fly past as quickly as the many voices (and dialects) that describe living there.

Freelance stories

In 2016, I published three Irish stories outside of the blog:

Guest posts:

I was pleased to welcome several guest bloggers this year, including:

I appreciate their contributions and encourage other readers to contact me for future guest posts.

Departed in 2016

  • Alan Rickman, British actor who portrayed Éamon de Valera, at 69.
  • Sir Terry Wogan, Limerick-born star of the BBC, at 77.
  • John McLaughlin, former Jesuit priest, speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon and conservative provocateur, at 89.
  • Dr. Edward Daly, former Bishop of Derry, at 82. In an iconic photograph from “Bloody Sunday” in January 1972, he waved a blood-stained handkerchief ahead of a group of injured civil rights protesters as they tried to pass through British troops.
  • William Trevor, novelist and short story writer, at 88.

From the Archive:

View of the coast at County Kerry .

Ireland moves toward legalizing medical marijuana

Medicinal marijuana could be legal in Ireland by the spring.

The governing Fine Gael party declined to block the first reading of the “Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill,” which is backed by all other parties in the Dáil. It now moves on to committees for further consideration. Health Minister Simon Harris has said he would seek to tighten the proposal as it moves through the legislative process.

More than 90 percent of Irish people support the legalization of the drug on medical grounds, the Irish Independent reported. Critics say the proposal opens the door to recreational use.

There is a “back to the future” element here, Gordon Hunt writes in SiliconRepublic:

In 1839, Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy brought cannabis into Europe from India. Seeing beneficial effects the drug seemed to have on relieving pain while in the subcontinent, O’Shaughnessy, having written numerous papers on the drug, thought it well suited for western medicine.

The drug took off and, for around 100 years, its widespread use (crossing the Atlantic, too) was notable throughout the streets of major cities, largely thanks to its pungent smell.

However, in the 1930s, U.S. lawmakers decided against it, instigating a ban that spread throughout much of the western world up until recent years.

October 2014 image from UniversityTimes.ie.

October 2014 image from UniversityTimes.ie.