No Communion Payments
A RECENT government decision to withdraw exceptional needs payments for religious ceremonies grants has secured the backing of parents locally.
The Department of Social Protection announced the scheme’s termination following a review that advised such grants be paid in accordance to financial necessity as opposed to celebrations.
Just over €3.4 million was paid in communion and confirmation grants in 2011 to around 14,000 families.
That payout fell by over half last year, resulting in 12,500 families securing grants totaling €1.5 million.
Now, those entitlements are to be axed altogether, but reaction to the decision has been one of acceptance.
“It was inevitable,” said Granard mother of two Michelle Gettings. “As parents, we need to start looking at reducing costs ourselves.
“At the end of the day, it is about making a sacrament and is a celebration of that. Unfortunately, some people that were getting these grants were putting pressure on those that weren’t getting them.”
Gettings said the church had a key role to play in helping parents deal with the impending changes.
She said one potential solution mooted over the past few days that might alleviate pressures on cash strapped parents was the universal introduction of ceremonial robes or school uniforms for such occasions.
That suggestion was given further weight by fellow Longford parent Nigel Lynam. His 10-year-old daughter, Caitlan, is scheduled to make her Confirmation next year, an event he believes has been marred somewhat by the Celtic Tiger boom.
“You have always had kids wanting to wear their own thing. That’s fine, but if they put a robe over the top of it, that would be the perfect solution,” he said.
“There have been times when people just seemed to go overboard by spending too much money. It (First Communion and Confirmation) went away from being a religious thing and it was more about who was dressed the best.”
A recent survey by EBS revealed parents expect to spend in excess of €570 on average on First Communions this year, a statistic Lynam and others like him to express their own concerns over.
“There’s talk that robes might only cost (a parent) €10 a year. It makes perfect sense. What’s the problem with every child being the same?” he asked.
Dog Owners Protest
HUNDREDS of dog lovers took to the sands of Portrush two weekends ago to express defiance at council plans to ban pets from north coast beaches.
People and dogs of all shapes and sizes came from across Northern Ireland, drawn by a wildly successful social media campaign and extensive media coverage. As they gathered on the quayside ahead of the planned walk the length of West Strand, the mood was festive but determined.
Chief organizer Willie Gregg received a rousing cheer when he appeared on the balcony of Portrush Yacht Club. "We all know the council is barking mad," he said. "This is our way to prove it."
The council is proposing making the West Strand a dog-free zone all year round. It follows numerous complaints about animals fouling the beach and owners failing to clean up the mess left by their pets.
But the overwhelming message from protesters was why should responsible dog owners suffer at the hands of an irresponsible minority.
Maureen McCrumm from Portrush said, "I walk the beaches all the time and I am a very responsible pet owner. I always pick up my dog's poo and I think it's terrible that the council should not be allowing us to walk our dogs there.
“I personally think human beings are more filthy than dogs. They leave all their rubbish and there is no-one there to police that."
The campaign run on Facebook and Twitter resulted in perhaps 1,5OO protesters, according to the organizers. And it wasn't just locals who turned up to support the campaign.
John Tate from Ballyclare said, "I spend more time in Portrush than I do at home and I disagree completely with a total restriction on the beach. It's okay to have restrictions during holiday times but a total ban is not necessary. You can just see by the turnout, they are voting with their paws."
THE manager of a hotel leisure center who was dismissed after he opened a gay sauna has been awarded more than €25,000 in compensation.
Eamon Ryan, 44, from Ballysimon, initiated proceedings for unfair dismissal against the Charleville Park Hotel after he was dismissed in August 2010.
During an Employment Appeals Tribunal which was heard this year, the manager of the hotel Brian Comerford said he had no issue with the “orientation” of the sauna. He denied suggestions that the dismissal was a “homophobic, knee-jerk” reaction.
He said disciplinary action was taken against Ryan after he received an anonymous phone call a number of days earlier informing him that he was a director of another business. Comerford said
Ryan’s involvement in the sauna was in breach of his contract and amounted to gross misconduct.
“It was clear he chose not to tell us about the other business,” stated Comerford, who claimed there had been an “ongoing deception” on Ryan’s behalf.
In his evidence, Ryan told the tribunal the company which runs the sauna was not incorporated until January 2010 and that it was just “an idea” when he started working for the hotel.
He said he was not involved in the day-to-day running of the sauna and insisted it had no impact on his role at the hotel.
In its decision, the tribunal noted that Ryan had not been the subject of any previous disciplinary action and the fact that his involvement in the sauna did not interfere with his job.
The tribunal noted that a specific clause in Ryan’s contract of employment did prohibit him from engaging in other work without written permission from his employer.
However, the tribunal states that it “notes that his other business was 60 kilometers away and while his contract included a restrictive covenant, he was not advised that if it was breached it could lead to his dismissal.”
The tribunal ruled that the appropriate remedy was to award Ryan €25,333 in compensation.
Ryan, a married father of three, said he was happy with the outcome.
“The tribunal has found that I was duly unfairly dismissed, and I am pleased that my character and reputation has been exonerated,” he said.
Deadly Bug Scare
A LETHAL bug has claimed six lives, including two children, in just four months.
The spread of the iGAS infection has sparked a medical alert across the country.
Two of the most severe forms of the bug are a flesh-eating condition which destroys muscles, fat and skin tissue, and Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can cause a rapid drop in blood pressure leading to organ failure.
Two of the six deaths were in children and the other four were in adults over 60.
Eleven children contracted the infection in the first 10 weeks of this year compared to just four in the same period last year.
Medics are concerned by the increasing number of cases which are difficult to diagnose.
In all, 36 cases were reported compared to 22 in the same period in 2012, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre has reported.
The bug can also cause bloodstream infection, pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and septic arthritis.
The HPSC confirmed that Invasive Group A Streptoccocal Infection (iGAS) has been responsible for six deaths in the first 16 weeks of this year alone.
Dr. Ray Walley, chairman of the IMO's General Practitioner Committee, said the condition is so rare it would be easy for a doctor to miss it.
Walley stressed the need for "surveillance through good centralized planning" to make sure that every doctor was aware of the signs. He told the Herald that he had one case in a child last year and on a "gut feeling" referred the child to Temple Street hospital where a mild form of the disease was diagnosed.
The issue was raised last night at an executive committee meeting of the Irish Medical Organization.
Both family doctors in the IMO and in the Irish College of General Practitioners are being warned to look out for the infection. Children under the age of five and adults over 60 are most at risk.
The HPSC warns that prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to avoid death and complications, and in some cases surgically removing infected soft tissue "may be life-saving."