Clare's economy badly needs whatever seasonal boost it will get in the next seven weeks, but with the country spooked by a severe recession and with a tough budget looming, there are fears that festive spending will be down.

Several local business people said that while they are expecting a quieter Christmas than other years, they are hopeful it will still offer an important boost to trade.

Traditionally, the festive period is the busiest time of the year for pubs and Gerry Collins, chairman of the Clare branch of the VFI, said he is hopeful this Christmas will be better than 2009, if for no other reason that weather conditions will almost certainly be more favorable.

“Last year there was such bad frost that it killed things. We’re hoping that people will come out this year though,” he said.
However, he doesn’t expect that there will be jobs for more people in Clare pubs.

“I wouldn’t say that many will be taken on. People are struggling to keep what they have employed. They’re just battening down the hatches,” he said.

The county town’s narrow streets are generally crammed with bodies in the week’s leading up to Christmas. Rita McInerney, chief executive of Ennis Chamber, she said it is likely that some seasonal jobs will be created.

“Whatever the climate, things always pick up for Christmas and businesses are looking forward to it. It can make up a big portion of takings for the year, particularly in retail and hospitality, and people who have reduced their workforce during the year will hopefully bring in additional staff,” she said.

Michael Vaughan of the Shannon branch of the Irish Hotels Federation said there hadn’t been a huge demand for Christmas parties in Clare’s hotels.

“It’s a big worry in business because a lot of people seem to have a wait and see approach, due to the severity of the budget. A lot of people are not seeing the volume of inquiries that would have been expected, but people are doing a lot of different things, like offering less expensive packages,” he said.

However, Vaughan said he is hopeful of a late surge. “I would think it will happen in the end but there is more pessimism about it than previously,” he said.
- Clare Champion

One out of every four homes for sale in Kildare is, on average, in a "ghost" estate.

Over 500 homes are lying vacant in 88 ghost estates in Kildare inspected by the National Housing Development Survey commissioned by the Department of Environment (DOE), according to a recent report.

The recent DOE report on ghost estates inspected a total of 88 estates in Kildare, with 8,390 properties that include detached, semi-detached, terrace, duplex and apartments, all falling into this category.

Of those properties, 4,190 are complete and occupied, 563 are completed but lying empty, 241 are near complete with no building activity, 278 are near complete with building activity, and finally construction on a whopping 2,814 has not yet started.

Currently on properties for sale website, there are 2,106 properties listed for sale in Kildare.

Taking that list as representing the minimum number of homes currently on the market, then, on average, one of four homes for sale in Kildare could be in a ghost estate.

The government has since called on Kildare County Council to embrace a new initiative to provide social housing in these ghost estates.

Minister for Housing Michael Finneran last week warned local authorities that he will "find another way" if they do not embrace the government's initiative to provide social housing in ghost estates.
- Leinster Leader

A Lisburn minister has reclaimed a church record for preaching the longest non-stop sermon.

The Reverend Ken McReynolds, rector of Lambeg Parish, preached without a break for five hours 52 minutes on Saturday, October 30, the equivalent of 24 sermons.

The Church of Ireland minister had previously set the record in 2005 with a five-hour sermon, but lost it to an English minister who beat him by 30 minutes.

During his lengthy spell at the pulpit, McReynolds spoke on the principles of living, drawing on the experiences of figures in the Bible.

His wife Dorothy and seven other stalwart parishioners stayed throughout the record attempt, and other members of the congregation did stints to lend moral support.

An hour and a half into his sermon, McReynolds said he started to feel hoarse. His wife went and got him some honey and lemon to ease his throat.

But despite being a genuine record-breaker, the rector will not be featured in the next edition of the Guinness Book of Records as the famous book’s rules would have made it too easy for him.

"They demand you stop for 10 minutes every hour -- if I did that I could have gone on all day -- so it is just an unofficial record within church circles," he said.

McReynolds explained his motivation was to raise funds for Craig Dowling, who is embarking on the church army evangelist training program.

However, McReynolds said that if his record is threatened again he won't defend it.

"If I lose the record, I don't think I'll try and claim it back again," he said.
- Ulster Star

Minister for Equality and Human Rights Mary White has called for ministerial cars to be scrapped and the two government jets to be permanently grounded.

White suggested that, along with the ministerial car cull, politicians should face a further 20% cut in their salaries in next month’s budget.

“I would like to see the ministerial cars scrapped. I think the presence of the cars sends out a wrong message to people who are struggling to hold onto their jobs and are worried about paying their mortgages,” she said.

“The government jets should go too, and I think politicians should take a further cut in salary. Ministers have already taken 20% but I think it should be more.”

White suggested “another whack of 20%” should be taken from politicians’ salaries, adding these measures would demonstrate to the public that “people at the top are prepared to take their fair share and more in these tough economic times.”

As a junior minister, White is not entitled to a state car but she is supported by the state in employing two drivers who work alternate weeks driving her own car to events around the country.

“I have my own civilian car, the Volkswagen Golf I always had.  I do have the support of a driver, but if they have to go too, they have to go,” she added.

White admitted she had never used the government jet, but expressed her belief they should go too.

“I flew to New York last week for a UN initiative for women in politics and I had the very last seat on the plane, right down at the very back -- ordinary fare, no special seat -- and it was perfectly acceptable,” she stated.
- Carlow Nationalist

A Damning report compiled by a top U.K. doctor into the death of a young cystic fibrosis sufferer at Waterford Regional Hospital claims she was neglected by the health service during her three week stay there.

And now the family of 24-year old Tracie Lawlor say they don’t want another cystic fibrosis sufferer’s family to go through what they went through before their daughter died.

The report, which was commissioned by Tracie’s family, was carried out by Dr. Stephen Philip Conway, who found that doctors and nurses failed to keep proper records of her deteriorating health, medical staff did not assess her properly and there was inadequate attention from senior doctors at the unit.

Tracie died on November 10, 2007, one day after her mother took her home, to Castlebridge in Co. Wexford, when she could no longer bear to see her daughter suffering any more.

Tracie’s mother Phil said her reason for commissioning the report was to get standards of care raised at Waterford Regional Hospital.

‘Nothing will bring Tracie back, but I don’t want anyone to have to go through what we went through. The hospital is supposed to be a center of excellence and yet I had to wash down her room everyday. She wasn’t seen regularly by senior cystic fibrosis doctors, she was on an oncology ward and seen by an oncologist,” she said.

Her daughter had to endure urine on bathroom floors, blood stained medical trays and cramped wards despite the fact that cystic fibrosis sufferers are at high risk of cross contamination if exposed to unhygienic surroundings.

“On one occasion I asked for a yellow sealed bucket with used needles and other waste to be removed. It took a week for them to do that,” said Phil.

Repeated requests for her daughter to be transferred to St. Vincent’s hospital proved fruitless, and in the end Philomena took Tracie home to die.

“Even I didn’t realize the extent of the hospital’s neglect until I read the report. I commissioned it because I wanted answers. My daughter shouldn’t be dead,” Phil said.

The Health Service Executive confirmed they had received a copy of the report and that the contents were being treated very seriously.
- Waterford News & Star