‘Do not pay the moneylenders’

PEOPLE in Kilrush who have fallen prey to those operating an illegal money-lending racket in the town have been told not to bow to intimidation to pay up their debts at extortionist interest rates.

The call was sounded out in the run into Christmas by Gardaí in the wake of a swoop on those believed to be behind the moneylending operation in the town and wider West Clare.

Eleven people were arrested after local members of the Garda, assisted by Criminal Assets Bureau, Regional Support Unit, and Special Detec- tive Units from Galway, the National Criminal Intelligence Unit as well as officials from Revenue, Social Welfare and Clare County Council staged a series of raids on properties in Kilrush.

Anumber of premises were searched and a total of 11 people were arrested following the searches. Those arrested were later released without charge and a file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions. The operation had commenced at 7am on the Tuesday, traditionally Children’s Allowance day in Kilrush.

According to locals in Kilrush, gardaí will find it very difficult to convince people to testify in any cases brought before the courts as a result of this operation.

“There is no doubt about it,” said The Clare People source in Kilrush, “but they won’t get anyone in Kilrush to testify against these people. Even the people who were beaten up and the person who got his hand broken by moneylenders won’t testify. It just won’t happen.”

The investigation, had been ongoing for several months, centres around complaints received from various individuals and is focused on those suspected of being engaged in unlicensed money lending. In June 2012 it was The Clare People that broke the story of the moneylending crisis in Kilrush, revealing that those in Kilrush who had fallen on hard times financially were living in the grip of fear as a number of moneylenders stalked the town, demanding repayments for loans that have been given out at extortionist interest rates. “Everybody knew that this was going on,” The Clare People source revealed this week, “that people were lending money and demanding huge interest rates – if you borrowed € 100, you had to pay € 10 back a week,” he added.


Floatation boost for Shannon company

A CLARE company is set for a € 50 million global expansion in 2014, which could lead to an increase in production and employment at its Shannon headquarters.

Mincon Ltd, which was founded in Clare by Patrick and Mary Purcell in 1977, was valued at almost € 200 million after a successful floatation on the Irish stock market last week.

This floatation, which brought in € 50 million through new shareholders, launched the company at € 180 million, with the value of shares reaching € 197 million at one point. A company spokesperson told The Clare People on December 3 that the planned international acquisition will bring extra job security and pos sibly extra employment for it Shannon headquarters. “The money raised has been earmarked for acquisitions outside of Ireland. What this will do is bring extra security to the manufacturing which is taking place in Shannon,” said the spokesperson. “Everything that is manufactured in Shannon is used for the operations around the world so there is certainly potential that we will be more busy in Shannon.”

The Purcell family owned almost 80 per cent of the company prior the floatation. They have retained 57.7 per cent stake through their Kingsbell Company investment vehicle, which enables them to maintain control of the future direction of Mincon.

The family of the company’s chief executive, Kevin Barry, owned just under 20 per cent of Mincon through a company called Ballybell prior to the sale.

Following the stockmarket entry, they now own 14.4 per cent of the company. Based on the new stock price, the Purcells’ stake is now valued in the region of € 110 million while the Barry family stake is worth more then € 28 million.

Mincon hit the headlines in 2010 when its drills played a crucial role in the successful rescue of 33 Chilean miners who became trapped nearly one kilometre underground.

A supplier of specialised drilling equipment, Mincon’s products have been used in some of the most remote regions of the world by firms engaged in mining, oil and gas exploration, as well as construction.

Before establishing Mincon, Patrick Purcell (77) worked as a fitter for the Air Corps and for De Beers [now Element Six], in Shannon.


Jobs blow at closure of FleishmanHilliard

SHANNON suffered a major jobs blow in December when it was revealed that one of the longest serving companies in the Free Zone will close its manufacutring facility in 2014.

It was announced through a public relations firm in Dublin that Kraus and Naimer would shut down the manufacturing arm of its operation in the industial estate early in the new year.

“Production at the facility, which supplies electrical switchgear, will cease at the end of January 2014,” a statement issued by through FleishmanHilliard revealed.

The announcement was made to the total workforce of 63 by senior management from the company’s parent group in Austria.

The employees were told that “the closure is due to the business sustaining losses for the last number of years, which have been driven by the impact of weak customer demand due to the global recession.

“The decision follows previous efforts to restructure the facility and a move recently to enter short working time arrangements,” the statement continued.

“It is with deep regret we have had to make this decision which has been made due to ongoing and unsustainable losses incurred at the Shannon facility,” said Ted Naimer, Global President at Kraus and Naimer.

“We will be entering into a process with staff over coming days in relation to an orderly winding down of the facility, and thank them sincerely for the contribution they have made to the company,” he added

Kraus and Naimer established its facility, which is involved in the manufacture of a variety of electrical switches for industry, in Shannon in 1973.

SIPTU, which had been in talks with the company about strategies to maintain its operation in Shannon, said workers are shocked and angered to learn of the company’s decision to end production.

The union says further talks are due to take place at the company next week.

It will explore all avenues open to maintaining employment and if necessary trying to secure the best redundancy deals possible.


A decade left at Moneypoint

MONEYPOINT Power Station continues to power the West Clare economy and contribute to the national electricity grid in a significant way, but in December concerns were expressed for the future of Kilrush and the environs if and when this station closes.

“A power station that was built in the 1980s would have probably been designed at that time to run for maybe 30 to 40 years or what ever would be typical enough for a plant,” said Brendan Kennedy, Station Manager at the ESB plant when addressing a meeting of Kilrush Town Council.

“I suppose we have done the maintenance over the years to keep that in line. I would be surprised if the station didn’t have it running for another decade anyway. I would expect Moneypoint to run on a high merit in the national grid for the next number of years,” said the Ennis native.

The ESB company pays up to € 12 million in rates to Clare County Council every year, as well as supporting sport facilities, clubs, organisations and the Christmas lights in Kilrush and West Clare.

“I hate to think what Kilrush would be like if Moneypoint never came,” said former mayor of Kilrush Liam O’Looney.

Cllr Mairead O’Brien is what is known locally as a Moneypointer, having moved to Kilrush when her father was transferred to the power station.

“Even if you see that is might last 10 years, that is a shock to me that it might not last any longer. I suppose I would have never contemplated West Clare without it,” she said.

“I would certainly hope there is a way for it to diversify,” she said adding that she hopes the company remains part of West Clare. Mr Kennedy said he did not wish to alarm people and that despite a very competitive market Moneypoint continues to be one of the main suppliers to the national grid.

There are currently 192 full-time people working at the plant, follow- ing 34 voluntary redundancies this time last year. At its peak in the 1980s there was an average of 450 people working there.

Having completed a € 360 million retrofit on site during the last decade the ESB plan to complete re-engineering work on the ash storage area next year as well as further investment in the coming years.


Family take on HSE for medical card

IN NOVEMBER a Clare mother pledged to take her case against the Heath Services Executive who took away a medical card from her son to the gates of Dáil Éireann and straight to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Noreen Keane from Cratloe outlined for case to The Clare People , saying that she was on the brink of having to stop buying essential medication for her eight-year-old son following the loss of his discretionary medical card.

To highlight her case Ms Keane outlined plans to stage a protest in Dublin – her last ditch attempt to force the HSE to reverse the decision.

Her son Ronan Woodhouse (8) was born with Down Syndrome and suffers from 13 related conditions including acute asthma, a cardiac condition as well as sight and hearing difficulties.

According to Noreen, the cost of medication, therapy and doctor visits for Ronan costs an average of € 2,300 per month. The HSE contacted Noreen last February, informing her that Ronan’s discretionary medical card was to be revoked.

This decision was upheld after an appeal, prompting Noreen to begin a campaign last month to highlight her son’s situation. In the last number of weeks the “Ronan’s Cause” site on Facebook has gained more than 4,000 friends.

Noreen and Ronan also protested outside the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Limerick in October, at which time Taoiseach, Enda Kenny (FG), committed to meeting her. This meeting has yet to take place.

“They are putting my child’s life at risk by taking away this medical card. I just can’t provide all these services for him so how am I supposed to prioritise things? Should I reduce the medication that he needs or do I stop bringing him to the doctor?” she told The Clare People .

“I’m going to keep fighting for this. I’m tired, I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I am a single mother. But I am going to keep fighting for this. I don’t have any other choice. Should I stop buying oil for the house or should I stop buying his medication? Then if the house is cold he is going to get sick.

“I work full time and I’m being penalised because I work. We are a oneincome family. When the medical card was issued to Ronan eight years ago we were a two-income family so we are much worse off now than when the card was originally issued. So how can they [the HSE] say that the system has not changed?”


Ennis firm hit in c yber attack

NEWS of a major data security breach in Ennis travelled around the world in November after it was revealed that a cyber attack had taken place on the Station Road-based company LoyaltyBuild.

The Data Protection Commissioner said the credit card details of over 500,000 people across Europe may have been compromised by the data breach at Loyaltybuild.

The company was sold in 2008 by businessmen Dominic Considine, Domhnal Slattery and Sean Lyne for € 25 million to American company, Affinion.

Suspicion about a possible breach emerged on Friday, October 25, and a team of “expert forensic investigators” was appointed to determine what had happened.

On Wednesday, October 30, it emerged that a breach may have occurred and it contacted the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) on November 1.

An inspection team from the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has also confirmed that the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of around 1.12 million clients were also taken.

Billy Hawkes said his office has now made contact with colleagues across Europe to inform them of the security breach.

Loyaltybuild runs special offers and incentive schemes for major retailers, utilities and service providers in Ireland, the UK, Scandinavia and Switzerland.

The ODPC said an inspection team has confirmed that the full card details of over 376,000 customers were taken.

Of this figure, over 70,000 were SuperValu customers and over 8,000 were AXA Leisure Break customers.

The details of another 150,000 clients were also potentially compromised. It said initial indications are that the breaches were the result of an “external criminal act”.

Managing director Peter Steenstrup has said he is deeply sorry for what is described as a major security breach at the company.

He urged customers to check their bank account statements and report any suspicious activity.

Mr Steenstrup said Loyaltybuild takes data security very seriously and the company is working to ensure that this will never happen again.

The Data Protection Commissioner said the criminals who breached security have all the information they need in order to use the payment cards.

LoyaltyBuild stated that the system breach was discovered last month, and that they have been working around the clock with their security experts to get to the bottom of matter.

“From the moment we first detected a suspected security breach on Friday, October 25, we immediately engaged the services of an expert forensics security team and have worked tirelessly to try to rectify this situation,” they noted.

“The DPC and the Gardaí will be kept informed of any further developments.”


Mother given 600 years to pay loan

NEARLY 600 hundred years to pay off a loan – that was the judgment handed how in Ennis District Court on November 1 when Judge Michael Durcan ordered that a financiallystrapped mother of five should only pay € 5 a month on credit union loan.

The previous month the credit un- ion made an application before Ennis District Court last month for an installment order against the woman for a debt of € 35,070.76.

After hearing of the woman’s financial circumstances in which she is struggling to pay bills and keep five children, three of whom were in third level education, Judge Durcan told her his conscience would not allow him to agree to her offer to repay € 20 a month to the credit union. Instead Judge Durcan reduced the figure to € 5 a month.

“This woman is doing a fantastic service to the State and to her family,” said Judge Durcan, who made an order reducing the amount the woman must pay back on a monthly basis.

He ordered she pay back € 5 a month to the credit union. It could take the woman up to 583 years to repay the loan in total.

The woman became emotional as she thanked Judge Durcan for his ruling. On this repayment schedule the loan would notionally be repaid in 583 years.

She told the court she would pay the installment every month.


Heroin problem in Kilrush

A SUB group of the Regional Drug Taskforce was established in Kilrush in November amid fears a growing heroin problem in the West Clare capital.

The Garda move is seen as a move by law enforcement agents to see if there is a serious deep-rooted heroin problem in the town.

Gardaí in Kilrush, in conjunction with the National Drugs Unit, have been tackling the supply issue with a special five-month undercover operation spanning the end of last year and the first quarter of this year.

A total of 1,400 Garda man-hours were used in the investigation and sting that resulted in at least eight arrests that have come before the courts so far. The Clare People learned that a special “drop-in clinic” for drug addicts was opened in the town eight weeks ago, to deal with the sociocriminal problem that has taken hold for the last year.

Regional drugs coordinator with the HSE Rory Keane said a heroin issue in a town of this size is usually attributed to a social-economic issue and supply.

Meanwhile Mr Keane said the health service has been aware of a problem in the town for the last year. He added that a specialist team made up of the HSE Drug and Alcohol Service, Mid Western Regional Task Force, Bushy Park and the Commu- nity Substance Misuse Team, were now working in the town to examine the general drug issues including heroin.

The special drop-in clinic will close in the next few weeks and the body will regroup to assess the situation.

“It has been a concern for the last 12 months that there does seem to be a pocket of heroin use in Kilrush that would not be on other parts of the county,” said the drugs specialist.

“Availability would be an issue. The other concerns would be social-economic factors and issues of unemployment, motivation and poverty.

“A drug problem might come up centred around a few individuals or a supply issue in a rural area,” he explained, adding that the concern in Kilrush was the problem was established for longer than would be expected in a town of its size.

“It is too early yet to say if it is a deep-rooted problem or a long-term episodic issue. We are not in a position to predict what will happen,” he said. “My sense from talking to people is it is definitely a social and economic issue here,” said Mr Keane adding that it is no coincident that you see an increase in drug use at times of economic difficulties.


Banner win drives spending spree

IT WAS Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald who memorably told the Troika, Angela Merkel, Mario Draghi and anyone of our European partners who were watching the Clare homecoming celebrations in Ennis on September 29 that “the recession can go to hell”.

Well, come October it was revealed that the recession did just that around All-Ireland time and that the words of Clare’s All-Ireland winning manager were proving prophetic.

Early estimates of the spending power of the Clare public during those heady September days into early October suggested those memorable celebrations were worth € 1m to the local economy alone.

Meanwhile, while players’ attention turned to the club championship in October, it was also time to look forward to the end of year celebrations.

The team holiday destination of Mexico was decided in October, while as part of the fundraising drive for this trip of a lifetime for players and mentors an official team and team calendar were organized dur- ing the month to go on general sale around the county and beyond.

The Clare Hurling Supporters Club asked members of the public to be wary of pirated versions of pictures or calendars on sale, as none of the proceeds of this merchandise would be going to the hurlers’ holiday fund.

Chairman of the Clare Hurling Supporters Club PJ Kelly told The Clare People that the fundraising for the player’s holiday fund would be stepped in October and continue for the rest of the year.

“Of course the players and man- agement deserve a holiday for all their incredible achievements and the sacrifices they made this year,” he said.

“We would ask the Clare public to get behind the team as we try to raise money for that trip. With this in mind we will be making an official team photograph with the Liam McCarthy Cup available for sale shortly. It will sit perfectly beside the pictures of the 1995 and 1997 All-Ireland winning squads,” said Kelly, a former treasurer of the Clare County Board and father of All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Patrick Kelly.


Irish planning system wrong?

AN ALLEGATION that planning has gone wrong because of the role that politicians play in the process was levelled in October, with the charge coming a former chief planning officer with Clare County Council.

Brendan McGrath, a consultant planner with Clare County Council, said that clientelism has become endemic in the Irish planning system and has come to supersede the public good as a planning consideration.

In his new book, ‘Landscape and Society in Contemporary Ireland’, Mr McGrath conceded that “something has gone wrong” in the Irish planning system, which he argues does not serve the common good.

“The political system functions to support individual landowners. Clientelism gets in the way of consideration that are more supportive of the broader community. It [political interference in planning] is an obstacle to the common good, which is what the planning system should be about,” he said.

“Even at a very local level clientelism is not helpful. The decisions are not made with the landscape in mind, instead decision are made because of who owns what land. That is not about the wider best interests.

McGrath argues that it is not individual politician who are to blame for this process but rather the planning system, which allows for rampant clientelism.

“It’s not as though politicians are looking to make lots of money on these things [planning decisions], but it is putting personal interests before decisions that effect more people,” he said. “If things were being run properly, if there was no clientelism, the real planning arguments would hold sway rather than these local influences that get in the way.

“Councillors have a duty to the people that they represent, so if someone comes to them an says they want something zoned X, Y or Z, then the councillor is quite entitled to take that on board.

“When these type of considerations override the way that decisions are made then it is contrary to proper planning and development. That is the order of the day in local government where zoning decisions are made.

“Even with simple planning application, when the decision lies with the county manager. But even in these situations representations are made to managers and to their offices. And on occasion these representations can be given excessive weight.”

Brendan McGrath’s book, ‘Landscape and Society in Contemporary Ireland’, was published in the first week of October by Cork University Press.