Omagh Families Pursue O.J. Remedy

The families of the 29 victims of the horrific Omagh bombing eleven years ago this month have won a judgment against the men implicated in the senseless atrocity. The award of $2.5 million will likely be no easier to collect than the civil damages award against O.J. Simpson, but it indicates the level of commitment of the families.

Of the four men involved in the Omagh bombing, one is in prison in the Republic, one is being held for extradition to eastern Europe, and two others live in the Republic. A vexing problem in actually collecting the court award involves what if any assets the Real IRA, or the Continuity IRA, has that are unprotected and subject to collection. Rumors have suggested the some of the defendants have already signed over property and similar assets to others to shelter them from the court decision. As many people know, the Brown and Goldman families won a $33 million civil judgment against O. J. Simpson but to date, despite aggressive efforts, have obtained very little of the award. We can all hope that the Omagh families find swifter and surer justice.

Bertie Ahern Wrestles With His Taxes - Two years after the Mahon Tribunal veteran and former Taioseach said he was almost finished sorting out his taxes (no mean feat) Bertie Ahern, as of last month, had not yet finished corralling the numbers. His potential tax liability, of which he has reportedly already paid over $90,000, stretches back to the 1990s when he was the country's high-flying Finance Minister and dig-out head table honcho.

It hasn't been an easy slog for the former Irish leader in trying to sort out his murky personal finances. One can only empathize on the loaves and fishes aspect of his income over his earlier years in government with its array of "dig-outs" and good-will gifts from old friends and newly enriched recipients of the early Celtic Tiger's largesse. These gifts from grateful constituents, and even a few who dealt in Sterling, may all be subject to Irish taxes and penalties and that is what keeps Bertie, pencil nub in hand, working away, doing his numbers in the lonely shank hours of the night. And one must remember that it is particularly troublesome for a man who, admittedly, kept few personal financial records outside of his head, and resisted the blandishments of formal banking.

Even today one can picture a bleary-eyed Bertie in his study at home in green-shaded solitude, under a wall filled with plaques, photographs, and platitudinous wall hangings, desperate to do a good job to show the Mahon little people and those rude barristers that Bertie was above it all, still is. Yet it isn't easy being Bertie Ahern, even with his hefty going away severance and his $300,000 annual pension. His retreat from Irish public life was somewhat eased by his speech before a joint session of the US House and Senate —a thank you to Bertie for the nod and wink on the US military shuttles through Shannon, but that hardly takes the sting out of the recent reports that former British PM Tony Blair and not Bertie will be the first European Union President. And the IMF is pointing to the Ahern government policies of 2007-2008 as major factors in the grim economic situation in Ireland today. What do they know!

Did You Know ... that the first Irish expedition to successfully climb Mount Everest reached the top in 1993. The climbing team was led by Dawson Stelfox, a 34-year-old architect from Belfast, who became the first Irish person to reach the peak at 29,078 feet. The Irish team was one of only eight teams to conquer the mountain by using the dangerous North Ridge. As a Belfast native, Stelfox can also claim to have made the first Irish and British ascent of the North Ridge.

N.Y. Congressman Blasts Dead Pop Star - Long Island Congressman Peter King couldn't wait for Michael Jackson to be buried before he began his personal campaign of invective to close down the media coverage of the pop star's death and funeral. His outburst entailed calling Jackson a "pervert and a low life," sentiments that the 65-year-old eight-term congressman apparently never publicly uttered until Michael Jackson was silenced by death. I couldn't identify a single Jackson song hit if my life depended on it, but in his strange, lonely ultimately tragic life he was never convicted of the criminal behavior that Peter King throws around so recklessly. Who is Peter King to destroy a person's reputation so arrogantly? Was he standing up for the children of America? When he called IRA death squads "brave men" during their worst violent moments that tolled the deaths by the IRA of over 600 Northern Catholics during the Troubles, whom was he protecting then? Oh, yes, I should mention that Rep. King is looking possibly to move up as a U.S. Senator from New York, so outbursts against an exotic dead pop star like Jackson might not be a burden to him in some quarters.

U.S. Military A Cash Cow for Shannon - In what for Shannon Airport was an otherwise flat year with the global economy taking its toll, the only bright side of the balance sheet and the single growth area for the airport was the movement of U.S. soldiers. In the first six months of this year, the Irish Times reports, more than 130,000 US military personnel, passed through Shannon on 991 flights. This is a 4.8 percent increase on the first six months of last year. The soldiers on the way to and from Middle East postings accounted for nearly $5 million in profit for Shannon. Overall traffic in the six-month period for the airport was down 7 per cent, transatlantic traffic down 19 percent and European traffic down 3 per cent. The number of U.S. troops using Shannon since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is 1.35 million.

Happy Memories In Providence - George M. Cohan was born on July 3, 1878 in a cold-water flat in Fox Point, Providence, to struggling Irish-American vaudevillians. The song and dance man who composed and sang some of America's patriotic favorites, like "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "You're a Grand Old Flag," never truly received his proper due by the city of his birth, but on July 3 he was finally accorded a civic celebration, a bronze sculpture by a famed Boston sculptor, and a Providence square named after him. Cohan, who wrote some 500 songs and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Roosevelt for his wartime songs, performed often at the Majestic Theatre in Providence, now the site of the award-winning theater company's Trinity Playhouse. The widely acclaimed Boston sculptor who created the bronze bust of Cohan for Rhode Island's capital city is Robert Shure, who also created Boston's Irish famine memorial, as well as the recently dedicated Providence Irish famine memorial.

Did You Know That ... Frontiersman Davy Crockett was born in Tennessee, the son of Irish-born John Crockett. He was a scout for Andrew Jackson and twice was elected to Congress.He is perhaps best known for holding out against General Santa Ana before dying at San Antonio's famed Alamo in 1836. Beside Crockett a dozen Irish-born Texan defenders also died during the Alamo's final battle.

Limerick Tree Trunk Recalls Ballinspittle - It's not a statue but the tree stump in a small Limerick town might as well be to many of the faithful who see an image of the Virgin Mary etched in the 80-year-old tree stump on the grounds of Rathkeale's St. Mary's Catholic Church. More than 2,000 people, many parishioners and other townspeople, have already signed a petition to stop the removal of the stump.

Both parish priests have said they see nothing of a spiritual nature in the tree stump but that is not what some want to hear from the curates. A local businessman, Seamus Hogan, said visitors to the area (who continue to arrive by the scores) "are not venerating the willow tree stump, but Our Lady... It is the same as a marble statue inside the church," he said.

This news item from Limerick reminds this frequent visitor to Ireland of a tiny village in County Cork, Ballinspittle, that caused quite a furor in 1985 with reports of a moving statue of the Virgin Mary, complete with eyewitnesses. It wasn't the only report of statues in motion in Ireland that year but we were in the area and decided to check it out.

The statue in question was in a grotto some 20 feet up a hill. The four of us stared at the statue for a fairly long time but nothing moved. We took a break, looked around, and then stared once again at the image of the Virgin Mary. Nothing. Maybe we didn't bring enough faith with us to that Cork hillside but for four tourists from Boston, Ballinspittle was an unmoving experience.

Debtor Prisons To Close - Ireland has moved further into the 21st century with a proposal in the Dail to do away with the archaic punishment of prison time for debtors. It has been the continuing practice in Ireland to jail people for non-payment of debts. I thought that debtors' prisons had disappeared eons ago but the government has been regularly enforcing debtor laws that date back almost 70 years ago. Last year in the Republic 276 people were imprisoned for debt non-payment. The move to reform the laws is being driven by the national Free Legal Advice Centres that represent indigent Irish clients and others unable to afford lawyers in civil litigation. Good move!

Bad News, Good News For Galway - The bad news is that the Irish economic plunge has had a seriously negative impact on the city's once booming business landscape. In the past year alone there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of local firms that have either declared bankruptcy or closed. The business failures in Galway are in line with a country-wide loss of over 700 companies that failed in the first six months of this year, an increase over the same period in 2008 of 135 percent.

But glorious Galway city — once described as the fastest growing city in Europe — is poised to ride out the harsh Irish recession and is looking to the future. Just last month the Galway Harbor Commission announced a worldwide design competition to attract international architects to create an "iconic building" in what will be a new and revamped Galway dock area. The harbor board is looking to build something like a reduced scale building reflecting the sweep and style similar to the one in Sydney, Australia, that serves as a unique, recognizable architectural logo for that city. Good luck to our friends in Galway and their search for a signature landmark.

Big Pharma, Irish Style - Drug manufacturers in Ireland have been overcharging the Irish Health Service by millions of euro for prescription drugs for its clients. A new investigative study by the Irish Independent newspaper has blasted the health service for wasting huge sums in overpaying for essential drugs. Drug manufacturers in Ireland, the study charges, are being paid up to 18 times more for generic drugs than they would cost in the United Kingdom.

An example: a popular drug used for ulcers and acid reflux that some friends obtain here in the U.S., Omeprazole, can be bought and used for around 6 cents a day. In Britain the cost is $1.60 but in Ireland the price is $27.

This is not dissimilar to the situation in North America where Canada, as a result of negotiated drug pricing, markets that country's drugs at far less than the cost here in the United States.The excuse offered by Big Pharma in Ireland for the inflated drug prices there is the smaller size of the Irish market and the totally bogus claim that if prices were reduced to the UK level, some companies would stop the supplying certain drugs. This, of course, is absolute rubbish.

Bad Scene In North Belfast - It was a bad scene in places beyond the Ardoyne in north Belfast, but that troubled interface can graphically serve as a micro-flashpoint for this year's ramped-up, brutal marching season combat. The two most popular targets of criticism for the sustained street violence over the July 12-13 period are the dissident (breakaway) republicans that are unhappy with Gerry Adams and the provos, unhappy with the British presence in the North, and capable of anything from inciting youth gangs to assault the police (PSNI), to assassinating young constables. The other element in the toxic marching mix of Unionist Pride Season, is, of course, the marches themselves.

The Orange Order has been trying to manufacture a "feel good -- holiday" spectacular out of the marching season with particular design on making the Twelfth a day of celebration for both traditions as well as, yes, tourists. At best, it's a reach but looking at the destructive nature of the second week of July, it would suggest to the most liberal and optimistic among us that there remains a cultural chasm of Olympian size yet to be crossed.

The staunchly unionist newspaper, the Newsletter out of Belfast, had a decidedly different take on this year's parades. They called the Twelfth "a unique mix of religion, music, pageantry, and culture with some political speeches thrown in." The NewsLetter line that really caught my eye was the one that said, "There are few spectacles like it anywhere in the world..." Amen to that!


It's good to see more and more Irish travel agencies advertising not only Killarney, the Cliffs of Moher and Dublin, but also noting the scenic splendors of the North. The North is a wonderland of scenery that fully complements the lower 26. ... One disconcerting aspect of some auto rental agencies marketing is the cutoff age some advertise as 75 and out -Ridiculous. ... We can all hope that Boston's own Maura Tierney (of ER, etc.) will be well-served and recovering as this is printed from surgery for a breast tumor. ... A rare copy of the original 1916 Proclamation for sale in London and expected to go for $30- $45,000 remains unsold. The selling price was in pounds sterling which might have turned off patriot types. ... A contemplative body is the local assembly in Belfast's Stormont. The first year it passed just 13 bills, this year only 8. ... The Lisbon Treaty, supposed key to EU stability, has a new champion in poet Seamus Heaney, who is pushing for a yes vote in the October referendum. ... John Carroll, former Beat the Press panelist on WGBH's Greater Boston, has a new blog out for you keyboarders, "Campaign Outsider." ... Sinn Fein, still working on electoral wound-licking, has a full scale rump revolt from some republicans who feel that Gerry Adams and the provos botched the hunger strike and may have mis-transmitted negotiating points between Thatcher's government and the strikers in Long Kesh. ... In case you missed it, Beamish Brewery in Cork has pulled the plug and closed up for the last time. On its Cork site since 1690, new owner Heineken moved the operations to its Lady' Well Brewery also in Cork ......