Santa no show

It reads like something out of a fairytale, but the weekend snow fall will go into the history books as the first time that Santa Claus failed to arrive in Enniscorthy.
How could such a terrible event happen?

Santa Claus was expected to arrive in Market Square to watch the traditional switching on of the Christmas lights, but the center of Enniscorthy was covered in a blanket of snow and a weekend of turmoil and disruption was underway.

While the official function of switching on the Christmas lights did not take place, the lights did come on and against the backdrop of snow, the white Christmas image has come to Enniscorthy a month early.

Life was a struggle in the town as heavy falls of snow covered the streets and footpaths, causing a loss of business and reduced opportunities for customers.

Many shoppers had to resort to traveling on foot as they went in search of the essentials.

All business premises were open on Monday and a number of traders said that business was brisk, for a Monday, although the town was deserted before dusk fell and another night’s frosty air descended.

Vital electricity and telecommunications services were maintained and there were no reports of falls or injuries. Schools were closed.

Public transport, rail and bus services were maintained and provided an important link between Enniscorthy and other towns in the county, and to Dublin and Waterford.
- Enniscorthy Echo

Cowen dodges protest

A crowd of around 80 protestors intent on directing their anger at under fire Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen last Friday evening were left as bitter as the freezing temperatures outside following a last minute decision to replace the Fianna Fail leader with one of his ministers.

Cowen had been expected to take his place as the Longford Chamber of Commerce's keynote speaker, an invitation which attracted a sizeable crowd of protestors to assemble outside the Longford Arms Hotel.

Instead, many were left disappointed as news began to spread that Cowen would not be attending, a development confirmed by the arrival of Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht affairs Pat Carey, via a back door.

"The taoiseach is involved in meetings in Government Buildings," a composed-looking Carey said.

"He wouldn't have been here in time and he apologizes for that so he asked me if I could come down and I am very pleased to be here."

Carey dismissed a suggestion that Cowen had consciously side-stepped the event to avoid awaiting demonstrators outside.

"To be honest with you, we are well used to protests being outside and that's part of democracy. Genuinely, the taoiseach would have wished to have been here but he simply couldn't guarantee that he would have been here on time," he said.

Flanked by Deputy Peter Kelly, Carey conceded Fianna Fail were "not the flavor of the month" with an increasingly alienated electorate.
- Longford Leader

Plea for sex offender

Local TD (member of Parliament) Brendan Kenneally requested the temporary release of a man awaiting sentencing for a sexual assault charge, so that the man could attend his daughter’s wedding.

The man was in custody awaiting sentence for the sexual assault of his niece, and his family asked Kenneally to make representations on behalf of the man so that he could attend the event.

The Fianna Fail TD has defended the move and said he acted on humanitarian grounds after the man’s relatives pleaded for his help.

“All that was asked for was that the man be left out for a day on humanitarian grounds. I was not seeking to interfere with sentencing,” he told the Irish Independent.

When contacted by the Waterford News & Star Kenneally said he was unable to comment any further due to a bereavement in his family.

The prison service has not revealed if the request was granted.

In total 10 politicians made representations in relation to prisoners since the start of 2010.
- Waterford News & Star

Elderly couple robbed

An elderly Kildangan couple endured a terrifying ordeal when they were held at knifepoint for 90 minutes during a robbery in their home.

The ordeal began for the couple, both of whom are in their sixties, when the front door of their home was kicked in by two armed and masked raiders at approximately 8:40 p.m. on Thursday, November 25.

The husband and wife were held at knifepoint and the man was also physically assaulted by the raiders who demanded money from the couple.

The raiders also smashed mobile phones belonging to the couple and disabled the landline phone in the house before they made their escape with a substantial amount of cash.

They left the scene in the couple’s green Volkswagen Golf van which was found three days later in a secluded area in Kildangan.

The couple suffered from shock and were very traumatized by the ordeal. They were both taken to the Midlands Hospital in Portlaoise where they were detained overnight and treated for minor cuts and bruises.

Gardai believe that the raiders were very familiar with the local area and knew exactly who they were targeting.
- Kildare Nationalist

Violent threats

A Laois man was forced to leave the country after having his life threatened by gangsters, it was claimed.

It’s understood several men in an unidentified Laois town were threatened that they would get “a bullet between the eyes” if they did not leave the country following an alleged fight with relatives of a criminal gang.

Making the claim, Portarlington councilor Paul Mitchell said Laois people should be aware of a growing “mafia influence” in the county.

“It happened outside a nightclub in a local town. Five or six local chaps got in a row. One young lad was beaten up. Some of the young lads had been contacted that if they didn’t leave the country immediately they would get a bullet between the eyes,” said Mitchell, who added that the man beaten up was a nephew of a well-known “crime baron” and some of the individuals had left the country after the alleged threats.

The Laois Nationalist, however, understands one individual has left Ireland and the alleged fracas took place sometime in October. Two others who were threatened are still in the town.

Rumors circulating around the town said the men were given an ultimatum to leave the country, come work with the gang or face death.

Superintendent Philip Lyons said he was aware of the situation, but believed the issue was more complex than had been described.

“There is more to this than the councilor may be aware. There is an issue of unpaid monies from some criminal activities,” said Lyons.
- Laois Nationalist

Healthy hotels

Despite consumer spending concerns, top-end Irish hotels are still busy with bookings and are defying the recession with innovative offers and ways to cut costs.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) claims many of its four and five-star hotels are so far experiencing a similar amount of Christmas bookings to last year.  While many have taken measures to reduce costs, some hotels have also introduced loyalty cards and points systems to encourage repeat business.

Federation president Paul Gallagher explained, "It’s been a difficult two years for us. There’s a lot of pressure on prices. Those doing well at the top end are in good locations, have a good standard, service and value for money."

Many luxury hotels have been pulling in customers through facilities like spa treatments, golf breaks and other leisure activities on site, such as fishing, he said.

"Customers are wary about budgets. Christmas is challenging this year but the luxury hotels are seeing booking levels the same as last year,” he said.

The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt Hotel in Wicklow has already reported 50% of its bookings taken up for Christmas.  Over the last year, the five-star 200-room resort saw 8,000 guests from the U.S. stay at the historic estate, a figure similar to last year, said hotel manager Max Zanardi. While the luxury hotel has seen corporate bookings fall and reduced staff working hours, it started a loyalty card for customers last month. The hotel has just renovated its Gordon Ramsay restaurant and is set to open new rooms, with its award-winning spa offering midweek deals with lunch for €139.

But competition with other five-star hotels is stiff, added Zanardi.  "There’s a little cake out there and everybody wants a slice of it," he said. The industry as a whole has seen 34 hotels close up and not renew their licenses in November. Ireland’s Bluebook, which represents luxury manors, castles and hotels, said some of its locations opening for Christmas, including Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, were already almost fully booked up for the festive season. "They tend to have loyal guests who return each year," said group marketing manager Michelle Maguire.
- Irish Examiner