Fracking could be ‘toxic’ , says doctor

WEST Clare could be enveloped in a “toxic mud” that would be poisonous to animal, plant and human life should fracking be allowed to take place. That is the opinion of one of Ireland’s top doctors, Dr Elizabeth Cullen of the Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association, who believes that an outright ban on fracking should be put in place to avert a possible public health catastrophe.

This stark warning comes following a decision by the Department of the Environment not to follow the example set by Clare County Council last month and ban fracking. Speaking in the Dáil last week the Minister for State in the Department of the Environment, Fergus O’Dowd (FG), refused to back any move to ban fracking, saying that there could be billions of Euro in untapped gas resources which could provide a “massive economic boost” for the country.

According to Dr Cullen the toxic mud and other fluids produced by fracking could have a massive negative impact on all lives in West Clare. “It is difficult to ascertain the precise nature of chemicals used in fracking. Drilling companies to date, it seems, have not registered the chemicals they use according to the European law REACH,” she said.

“Research in the US has found that 58 out of 262 chemicals used in fracking gave rise for concern. Among these, 17 were found to be toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 were classified as being acutely toxic to human health and eight were classified as known carcinogens. Six were suspected carcinogens, seven were mutagenic and five were known to have adverse impacts on the reproductive system.”

Dr Cullen raised a number of other possible concerns about the fracking process including the risk of large amounts of contaminated fracking fluid remaining underwater and entering the natural water system.

There is also research which indicates that fracking can lead to a build-up of methane gas in private wells close to the fracturing site – which could lead to explosion, air pollution and an increased release of radon.

The Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association also highlighted the possibility of soil contamination which could hurt West Clare as a tourist location and as an agricultural area.

A spokesperson for Clare Fracking Concerned last week criticised the Government, saying that they had no faith in the Government to address the fears of people effected by fracking in West Clare.


Decision on Shannon is delayed

THE definitive government policy on Shannon Airport won’t be known until later in 2012.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has told business leaders in the Mid-West region that the deadline for a formal announcement on the future direction of Clare’s international airport, originally due this January has been delayed for a number of months.

A timetable for the delivery of a new policy blueprint for Shannon was confirmed by Minister Varadkar on Friday last when he addressed a Limerick Chamber of Commerce breakfast gathering at the Radisson Hotel in Meelick.

And, the future of the former hub of the aviation world, Minister Varadkar said could involve a substantial or complete “write down” of Shannon’s debts which are now running at € 100m, with losses from 2011 standing at € 8m.

“There is no point in proceeding with independence if it’s not going to work and. in that context, the debt would have to be written down, if not written off,” Minister Varadkar revealed.

In opening up the possibility of Shannon having a fresh start, freed from the strictures of Dublin Airport Authority control and no overhanging legacy debts, Minister Varadkar said “what we want is to secure the future of Shannon. There is no question of closure”.

“It is my absolute intention to give certainty (concerning the airport’s future) in 2012. Whatever solution we decide on will be decided this year,” the Minister added in a question and answer session with journal- ists and business leaders.

Last October Minister Vardakar commissioned a study on the airport’s future from Booz & Company, which suggested that Shannon be separated from DAA control and placed under the management of a new company drawn from public bodies like Clare County Council and Shannon Development.

On Friday, Minister Varadkar revealed that this process of change at Shannon would begin with the appointment of a interim board by Easter to deliver a business plan going forward.

This announcement follows on from the revelation earlier this month that Bertie Ahern appointee, Brian O’Connell, was no longer chairman of the Shannon Airport Authority.

It was O’Connell who controversially proposed to Minister Varadkar last year that Shannon be semi-privatised by way of the State entering into a 15 to 35-year lease agreement with private business interests who would take over the operation of the airport.

Minister Varadkar’s pledged to decide on Shannon’s future in 2012 comes in the wake of latest passenger figures which have revealed that numbers through the airport dropped to 1.6m in 2011, which represents a drop over 2m from the historic high of 3,639,046 in 2006.


New pre-clearance for military at Shannon

OPENING up a pre-clearance facility for the US military at Shannon; bringing Aer Rianta International back home to Shannon and Shannon Development handing over their tourism remit to Fáilte Ireland. These are just three major issues that were addressed at the Radisson Hotel in Meelick on Friday morning last when business leaders in the mid-west region had a breakfast briefing with Transport Minister Leo Varakdar.

During a question and answer session Minister Varadkar revealed that there will be “seven test runs of US military pre-clearance” in the coming week and “if that works we will be signing off on military pre-clearance at Shannon”.

Local anti-war group Shannonwatch was quick to criticize this announcement with spokesperson Ed Horgan telling The Clare People “during his speech Minister Varadkar talked about capturing the entrepreneurial spirit of Shannon, but it would seem that every one in six people that passes through Shannon Airport these days is an armed US soldier. That is not the type of viability or entrepreneurship that Shannon requires at this time.”

On the future role of Shannon Development, Minister Varadkar said the department was “considering whether their tourism marketing remit should revert to Fáilte Ireland” but that there was no question of the agency losing the remit to run visitor attractions in the mid-west region.

“Shannon Airport’s asset base, including the substantial landbank adjacent to the airport offers significant scope for future growth and development,” the president of Shannon Chamber of Commerce, Damian Gleeson told Minister Varadkar.

“The Lynx cargo hub and the Humanitarian Aid Centre are examples of projects this landbank could accommodate. The Shannon area is synonymous with innovative initia- tives. Route development and marketing of the airport underpins its future and the airport underpins the future of the entire Shannon region.

“We need to take the best from the past to move to the future. The corporate capability that has fuelled this region over the decades is still present in the region; it needs to be re-energised and given the wherewithal to take the region and the airport in a new direction,” he added.

The former head of Aer Rianta International, Michael Hanrahan, said “ARI’s headquarters is now in Dublin and that is wrong – it has produced hundreds of millions for Dublin and the sooner it is based back down here the better.”


‘Punched a teen in the nose’

A 36-YEAR-OLD father of four who punched a teenager in the nose has received prison sentences totaling 14 months.

At Ennis District Court last week, Michal Makula, with an address at 3 Church View, Barefield, was convicted of assault causing harm to a 16year-old boy. The incident occurred on the Gort Road on July 18 (2011).

The boy, who is now aged 17, told the court that he had received a broken nose in the assault. He told the court that his injuries did not require surgery.

Solicitor Tara Godfrey said her client had apologised for his behaviour and had acted in self-defence. However she said that his actions had exceeded what could be considered self-defence. She said that there had been a context in which the assault had taken place.

However Ms Godfrey insisted that this in no way was meant to call the character of the injured party into question or harm his reputation.

She said her client had no history of assault. Judge Aeneas McCarthy asked, “What was he doing hitting a 16 year old?”

Judge McCarthy described the incident as “a serious assault in that this young man suffered a broken nose”.

Noting the accused’s plea of guilty and other mitigating circumstances, Judge

McCarthy imposed a six-month sentence.

Makula pleaded guilty to a charge of burglary at a home at Dromina, Dysart, Corofin on November 9 (2011). Insp John Galvin told the court that the accused broke into the house through the bathroom window. He said Makula was seen by a witness leaving the house with jewelry valued at € 2,000. Insp Galvin said the accused had not been aware that a young woman had been in the house at the time.

Ms Godfrey said her client “genuinely believed the house was empty.” She added, “He did not mean to frighten anyone.”

The court heard that the goods were recovered. Ms Godrey requested that the court consider a suspended sentence.

Judge McCarthy was told that the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) had directed that the case be tried on a summary basis.

Speaking through an interpreter, Makula said he “was really sorry” for his actions. He said he was not in receipt of any social welfare due to problems with one of his children’s birth certificates.

Judge McCarthy imposed an eight month sentence, taking into account the guilty plea and other mitigating circumstances. He said both sentences are to be served consecutively. Recognances were fixed in the event of an appeal.


Knife possession dismissed

A MAN alleged to have been carrying a knife in Ennis last September told Gardaí he had it for his own protection, a court has heard.

The detail emerged at Ennis District Court last week where a Judge dismissed a case against William McDonagh.

It had been alleged that McDonagh (20) with an address at 32 Clancy Park, Ennis was in possession of a knife at Hermitage, Ennis, on September 21 (2011).

Detective Brendan Rouine told the court that he had been on patrol with a colleague when he observed McDonagh coming towards him.

Detective Rouine said that he saw a blade of a knife in McDonagh’s tracksuit pocket.

He said that when he asked him why he had it, McDonagh said it was “for his own protection”.

Detective Rouine said he had been aware that the accused had been involved in a dispute.

However, Judge Aeneas McCarthy subsequently dismissed the case af- ter Detective Rouine said that he had brought a copy of a statement into the witness box with him. Judge McCarthy said this was “totally and utterly out of order”. Detective Rouine said he had not referred to the statement during his evidence. Insp John Galvin said he had not been aware that the Detective had brought the statement with him. Solicitor Tara Godfrey asked that the court to consider dismissing the case against her client. Judge McCarthy dismissed the case, saying, “justice must not just be done, it must be seen to be done”. Judge McCarthy acknowledged that Detective Rouine had not looked at the statement. He added that he was not casting any aspersions on him.


Man had 13 cannabis plants in house

A MAN has pleaded guilty to the possession of 13 cannabis plants at a house in Newmarket on Fergus last June.

Gardaí discovered the drugs during a search of Miller Boys Cottage, Snugboro, Newmarket on Fergus, on June 4 last.

Ian Cullinan (31) with an address at 27 Glensheen Road, Gort Road, Ennis, appeared at Ennis District Court in relation to the charge of possession of a controlled drug, cannabis.

Insp John Galvin told the court that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had directed summary disposal of the matter on a plea of guilty.

Judge Aeneas McCarthy said the direction had effectively tied his hand in terms of trying the case in the District Court. He said the case was now a matter of sentencing, adding that he did not have the “jurisdiction to refuse jurisdiction”.

Insp Galvin said the accused admitted to gardaí that the drugs were his during the search. He said the cannabis had been valued at € 5,200. He said the accused was very co-operative with gardaí. Insp Galvin said gardaí were quite satisfied that the drugs were not intended for re-sale.

He added, “My colleagues accept it was not for sale on the open market.”

Solicitor Joe Moloney told the court that has client had immediately put his hands up and accepted he was wrong. He said his client was a single man from a “very well respected family”. He added, “The fact that he is here in court will bring it home to him that this is not acceptable in modern society.”

Judge McCarthy remanded the man on continuing bail to appear again at Ennis District Court on March 21. He ordered the preparation of a probation and welfare report to include urine analysis.


Clare babies at risk from midwife shortage

EXPECTANT mothers in Clare remain concerned about the health of their unborn babies this week, as HSE management and health care professionals disagree about safety at the Limerick Maternity Hospital.

A senior consultant at the Mid Western Maternity Hospital warns that mothers and their newborn babies may die due to an impending staffing crisis for which the HSE is not prepared.

The HSE argues, however, that it has a contingency plan in place.

Consultant Obstetrician Dr Gerry Burke said that as many as 47 mid- wives will take early retirement next month to secure pensions, leaving the hospital seriously short staffed.

There are currently just over 200 midwives working at the busy hospital, and it has been struggling with the large increase in births over the past five years, according to Dr Burke.

“No plans to deal with the shortfall have been presented by the HSE or the Department of Health. The shortfall of over 20 per cent of midwifery staff will diminish the quality of maternity care these women and babies receive,” said Dr Burke.

The hospital provides care to more than 6,000 women and about 5,200 newborn infants every year in the mid-west region, including County Clare.

The HSE maintain a contingency plan has been put in place, but are not forthcoming with the details of that plan.

“Contingency plans are being developed to cover any gaps that may arise in staffing as a result of midwives retiring at the end of February. It is not possible at present to say exactly how many will be leaving at the end of the grace period as staff still have a chance to change their minds,” the HSE spokesperson said.

“Many of these contingency plans are at an advanced stage.

“There are long-term plans for building a new maternity hospital on the campus of the Mid Western Regional Hospital in Dooradoyle. In the interim, over € 3 million has been spent upgrading facilities at the Ennis Road hospital including the neonatal department, new theatre, three labour wards and admissions unit,” she added.

Meanwhile, nurses and midwives at the Maternity Hospital in Galway will meet today (Tuesday) to discuss staffing issues there.

While it is understood that the shortage of midwives in Galway may not be as serious as in Limerick following the expected retirements in February, there are concerns about the loss of specialist nurses, such as those in the neo-natal department.


Clare farmers advised to ‘See Change’

ISSUES such as stress, depression and rural isolation were on the agenda of the Clare IFA meeting which took place in Ennis last week. Despite the largely positive economic news for many of the county’s farmers in recent years, the local farming community is still in the high risk category when it comes to a number of mental health issues.

With a large increase in the number of people emigrating over the past three years, rural isolation, especially in underpopulated sections of North and West Clare, is a major problem for the Clare farming community at present.

The IFA’s National Chairperson of the Farm Family Committee, Margaret Healy, spoke at the meeting and informed the Clare farmers of the IFA’s recent involvement in the See Change programme. See Change aims to create a situation where every person in Ireland can be open and positive about their own and others’ mental health. The primary focus of the programme is on young men and on the farming community, said the Farm Family Chairperson.

The IFA have just published as new booklet for members entitled ‘Let’s Talk Dealing with Stress’ and Margaret encouraged all Clare farm families to read the booklet and seek help and support as soon as possible if they themselves, a family member or a neighbour is in need.

A large emphasis was also placed on farm safety with County Chairman, Michael Lynch, encouraging all Clare farm families to make farm safety a priority for 2012 farming season.

The meeting was also addressed by IFA Economist, Rowena Dwyer, who told the meeting that, in the medium term, commodity prices are expected to remain firm due to increasing global demand, with many positive opportunities for Irish food producers into the future.

However, Dwyer stressed that mac- ro-economic uncertainty will lead to price volatility in the long term and Irish farmers could be exposed to income fluctuation. The IFA are lobbying to secure measures in the review of CAP that will lessen the severity of price volatility for farmers the meeting was informed.

On the public finances, there is continued pressure on funding for farm schemes and farm investment programmes with a government deficit projected to be in excess of € 13.5 billion in 2012. The IFA are continuing to highlight the necessity for farm schemes as stimulus to increase exports and underpin employment in rural Ireland.


DA scheme is not ‘a sitting duck for cutbacks’

CLARE farmers have been described as “sitting ducks” for more cutbacks as the future of the Disadvantaged Areas Payment was thrown into further doubt.

The ICSA last week warned that the repeated cuts in locations classified as disadvantaged areas, such as Clare, would create anomalies in the system for local farmers.

“The Government should not see the Disadvantaged Area Scheme as a sitting duck for cutbacks. Successive cuts to the scheme by successive governments betray a failure to understand the importance of the scheme,” said ICSA President Gabriel Gilmartin.

“The proposal to reduce DA payments to farmers with mixed holdings of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged land would open a minefield of unfair cases. For example, this penalises the farmer whose own farm is 100 per cent disadvantaged but who has taken the initiative of renting non-disadvantaged land, usually in an effort to expand his herd or flock or ensure adequate winter fodder.”

The ICSA president also described the new 80km rule as contentious but he supported the concession that means that it won’t apply in the case of farmers whose main holding is disadvantaged.

“This depends on what is meant by main holding. My view is that the main holding should be determined by where the herd number is established rather than by the size of the holding,” he said.

Meanwhile, rising fuel prices have the potential to cut any growth in the local farm sector which has taken place – according to IFA president John Bryan.

“Road fuel prices have increased by almost four per cent and agricultural diesel prices by 2.5 per cent since the start of the year, just 25 days ago,” he said.

“In the last two years, agricultural diesel has gone up by a massive 54 per cent, while road diesel has increased by almost 35 per cent. Ireland’s competitiveness is being increasingly eroded because of our over-reliance on expensive road haulage and our distance from our main markets.”

The IFA President said policy- makers must examine opportunities to lower haulage costs through increased transport weight limits and trailer length for agricultural and heavy goods vehicles. In addition, the Government must move to put viable supports in place to get our bio-energy industry established, as Ireland is being left behind the rest of Europe.


Tests show ‘significant radon problem’

CLARE has “a significant radon problem” as new tests show it has one of the highest concentrations of the cancer-causing gas in the country. While scientists have located a number of the homes in danger during the last number of months, the experts warn that hundreds more Clare cases are going undetected as people continue to live with this silent killer.

As many as 22 homes in the county have been found to have high levels of radon, according to figures released by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII).

Two homes, in Newmarket-on-Fergus and Ennis, had more than five times the acceptable level with readings in excess of 1000 Bq/m3.

The remaining 20 homes with readings above the acceptable level and were found in mid and East Clare. Eleven of these homes were identified in Ennis, two in Clarecastle and two in Sixmilebridge.

There was one house in each of the following areas with radon levels higher than what is considered safe: Ballymurtagh, Kilkishen, Killaloe, and Ruan. There was also one other home in Newmarket-on-Fergus.

Commenting on the findings, Mr David Fenton, Senior Scientist at the RPII said, “These figures show that Clare has a significant radon problem. Our research indicates that there are hundreds more homes across the county with high levels of radon gas. To date, only a very small proportion of these homes have been identified. Exposure to high radon levels causes lung cancer and many people are unknowingly living with very high levels in their homes. The only way people will know if it is in their homes is by testing.”

A total of 367 tests for radon gas were completed in homes in Clare between June 1 and December 31, 2011. Of these, 22 were above the acceptable level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre (Bq/m3).

Over 300 homes from across the country have been identified by the RPII as having high levels of radon in the last seven months.

Nationally, radon is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking and is directly linked to up to 200 lung cancer deaths each year.

The RPII and a number of private companies provide a radon measurement service. The cost of a measurement is around € 50.

If a moderate radon level is found, improving indoor ventilation may reduce the level by up to half, the cost of which is low.

For higher levels, a fan-assisted sump can be installed which can reduce radon levels by over 90 per cent. The sump can be installed in a day by a contractor with little disruption to the home. The average cost of this work is € 1,100, with annual running costs of approximately € 90.