Cheaper Bowls

The recession has ended the splurging on the annual Shamrock Bowl presented by the taoiseach (prime minister) to the president of the United States every St. Patrick’s Day.

The handover forms the centerpiece of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations every year at the White House.

However, according to new figures provided by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the spend on the bowl this year is less than half what the state coughed up for the bowl in March 2008 — just months before the state’s finances nose-dived.

At the St. Patrick’s Day bash at the White House in 2008 — on Bertie Ahern’s final visit there as taoiseach — he presented then president George W. Bush with a bowl that Kenny has confirmed cost the taxpayer €715 ($965).

But the sting of austerity means the cost of the 2013 bowl that Kenny presented to President Barack Obama last March was €300 ($405) — 58 percent less than in 2008.
Kenny also confirmed that it cost the taxpayer €4,323 ($5836) to supply 11 different shamrock bowls to President Obama and his predecessor between 2003 and 2013.

-- Irish Daily Star

Drug Treatment Up

Admissions to a locally based drug treatment center in Dublin are up by 37 percent, with many new clients presenting with cross-addictions to combinations of alcohol, cocaine and benzodiazepine pills.

The annual report from Coolmine Therapeutic Community shows a sharp decline in the use of heroin in the Dublin area but a worrying increase in the use of benzodiazepine, a psychoactive drug used for treating depression and other mental disorders.

The treatment center dealt with over 1,000 individuals in 2012, some of whom were the third generation of their families presenting with addiction problems.

Coolmine, like all drug and alcohol treatment service providers, is struggling to cope financially and is now calling on pharmaceutical and alcohol companies to contribute to funding its programs and facilities.

New admissions to Coolmine increased in 2012 by 37 percent compared to 2011 when 271 individuals received primary phase treatment across Coolmine services.

This figure rose to 372 clients receiving primary phase treatment in 2012, partly due to the treatment center increasing its capacity in both of its residential services to meet demand in mid-2012.

Chief executive of Coolmine, Pauline McKeown, said the rise in addictions to alcohol and benzodiazepine was of major concern.

“There has been a dramatic rise in addiction to this cocktail, particularly in the greater Dublin area.

“We believe this is due to the ease of access to alcohol and benzodiazepine. Also, it is not an offence to have these two drugs in your possession.

“As the problem grows, we ask pharmaceutical and alcohol companies to contribute to funding the programs and facilities, like Coolmine, to make sure that there is a practical plan to prevent misuse of drugs and alcohol and to help those with addictions.”

The center says its own preliminary findings show that 64 percent of clients who accessed Coolmine services remain drug free after six months, more than double a national average of just 29 percent.

-- Dublin People

Senior Discrimination

A couple living on the Galway/Mayo border are upset over what they say is the inequality of the ceiling in relation to medical cards for over-70s.

The husband and wife, who wish to remain anonymous, say their medical card was a “lifeline” for them as the woman is a cancer patient who attends University Hospital Galway.

To qualify for a medical card, under current guidelines, a couple’s income ceiling is €900 ($1,215) weekly whereas the income limit for a single person is €500 ($675) and the income ceiling for two single people co-habiting is €1,000 ($1,350).

The couple, who have contacted local senator Fidelma Healy Eames to voice their concern, have a joint weekly income of €909 ($1,227) per week which puts them over the medical card income threshold by €9 ($12).

The husband asked Healy Eames to raise this “inequality” with the Minister for Health Dr. James Reilly.

Healy Eames says she will question Reilly and the HSE on why the medical card criteria favors two single persons co-habiting over a couple.

“This is the first year that this distinction has been made against a couple. Previously there was no difference between the income level required for a single person and each member of a couple. It makes no sense,” she said.

“As one older person in their 70s said to me, ‘It’s not like you can share medical treatment or medication just because you are a married couple.’”

She states access to healthcare through a medical card is “precious” to older people in need, especially those with limited incomes.

“The request is one of fairness and a reasonable request. It is vital that there is a level playing field for all persons regardless of their status,” Healy Eames added.

-- Galway Advertiser

Break for Parents

PARENTS should find their back-to-school costs reduced next year as the book rental scheme has been extended to every primary school in the county.

One of the most popular decisions made by the government in last month’s budget, the move has been welcomed by Deputy Willie Penrose who says that it will ease the financial burden placed on local families.

“At present, the average costs to parents in Westmeath for primary school books is between €60 ($81) and €80 ($108). This figure could drop to as little as only €20 ($27)as a result of the decision in the budget to extend school-book rental schemes to every primary school in Ireland,” Penrose said.

“Back to school costs have been increasingly punitive for local families in recent years, with the problem of book and uniform costs being particularly acute. I am pleased the Labour Party has taken decisive action in budget 2014 to reduce the cost of school books by rolling out this scheme on a national basis, while we are also working on new proposals to give parents a say in the costs of school uniforms.

“Each year, €15 million ($20m) is provided to Irish schools to invest in school books. We believe that schools should use this funding to establish book rental schemes, and reduce the costs to parents. However, the latest figures show that 24 percent of primary schools in Ireland do not currently operate book rental schemes, despite the fact that such schemes can make a big difference to household budgets.”

-- Westmeath Examiner

Fear Over Burgalries

Castlebar Circuit Criminal Court heard that a couple in their 70s are living in constant fear, even taking turns to stay up at night to “keep watch,” after their home and bed and breakfast was broken into twice in one week.

In a victim-impact statement read out on behalf of Eddie and Maureen Lavelle of Burton Street House Bed and Breakfast in Ballina, the couple detailed their lives in the aftermath of the events of last July.

Eddie Lavelle, 75, said he and his wife were “shocked,” “traumatized” and nervous to leave their home since the burglaries. He said it was “terrible that young people would go out and target old people” and said the couple still find it difficult to sleep at night.

Matthew Lafferty pleaded guilty to burgled the Lavelles’ home on the night of July 22, 2013, leading into July 23, and again on July 28.  Lafferty and his accomplice gained access to an open upstairs window at the gable of the house and stole alcohol and €350 ($472). The couple were present in the house at the time.

On July 28, when the Lavelles’ son Eddie and his family were visiting, the court heard that Mrs. Lavelle came across the intruders in the dining room.  The court heard that Lafferty’s accomplice, who is “still at large,” pushed Mr. Lavelle who hit a wall and fell to the ground. Mr. Lavelle suffered lower back and arm injuries as a result.  An iPhone 5 belonging to the Lavelles’ son was taken but was recovered the following day.

Mrs. Lavelle compared the couple’s home now to Fort Knox as they equipped their home with security systems and lighting, but added that they are still unable to sleep at night.

Lafferty, a 21-year-old father of three, has 47 previous convictions, committing his first at the age of 16.

Defense barrister Eoin Garavan said Lafferty came from a dysfunctional family, had a “terrible childhood” and that drugs made him “indulge in criminal acts.”

Lafferty received a three-year prison sentence for the first charge and a five-year prison sentence for the second. The sentences will run concurrently.

-- Mayo News