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May 04, 2005

SF Poised For Election Sweep

News About Ireland & The Irish

WT 05/04/05 Sinn Fein Poised For N.I. Sweep
IO 05/04/05 Adams Predicts Peace Talks Will Resume After Election
RT 05/04/05 Northern Voters Go To Polls Tomorrow
BT 05/04/05 Who's Facing Who In The 10 Key Ulster Election Battlegrounds
BT 05/04/05 Odds-On Certs And Outside Chances
BT 05/04/05 Caution Over Orange Twelfth Plans
BT 05/04/05 'Family-Friendly' Look To Twelfth
EX 05/04/05 Two Gang Suspects Had Provo Connections
BB 05/04/05 Blair Says NI Is Still A Priority
BT 05/04/05 Police Probe Into Alleged Electoral Fraud In Foyle
IT 05/04/05 Vandals Damage Valued Sculptures In Mayo
IT 05/04/05 EUR100m Plan For New Concert Hall Unveiled
IT 05/04/05 Wicklow Mountains Park Plan Unveiled
IT 05/04/05 Waterford Crystal Set To Shut Factory With Loss Of 400 Jobs

PT 05/03/05 Elections Could See End For North's Middle Ground –VO

Prime Time - Elections Could See End For North's Middle Ground
Michael Heney gets the view from the trenches on the battle for the hearts
and minds of nationalist voters


Sinn Fein Poised For N.I. Sweep

By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst

Washington, DC, May. 3 (UPI) -- Just six weeks ago, Sinn Fein, the political
wing of the Irish Republican Army, looked on the ropes and politically
isolated as it had not been for decades in Ireland, Britain and the Untied
States. But now, the party is poised to win its biggest-ever electoral victory
when Northern Ireland participates in the British general election Thursday.

Most political analysts in the long-troubled province believe Sinn Fein will
win five seats in the House of Commons, the main chamber of the British
parliament, with the traditionally more moderate Social and Democratic
Labor Party holding on to only two. Sinn Fein may even sweep those as

It is a far cry from the apparent situation only a couple of months ago.
President George W. Bush not only refused to invite Sinn Fein President
Gerry Adams to the White House for the annual St. Patrick's Day festivities
there, he pointedly embraced instead the sisters of Robert McCartney, a
Catholic from Belfast's Short Strand district who was brutally killed in a
pub brawl in January. The IRA and Sinn Fein both came under intense
criticism because at first no witness dared to come forward to identify
McCartney's killers because of an IRA cover-up.

Indeed, following the McCartney killing, the Irish News, the main
newspaper of Northern Ireland's Catholic nationalist community, ran angry
letters attacking Sinn Fein and the IRA. Even a former IRA hunger-striker
against the British government in the early 1980s has publicly condemned
the killing and the paramilitary-organized cover-up that followed it.

Yet now Sinn Fein is running so strongly in the general election campaign
among Northern Ireland's 600,000 minority Catholic community that Peter
Robinson, deputy leader of the dominant Democratic Unionist Party among
the province's majority 900,000, urged a high turn-out for his party Tuesday
because, he warned, Sinn Fein was in danger of winning more votes
Thursday than any other political party there.

"Unionists must avoid the nightmare scenario of republicans speaking for
Ulster after the votes are counted on Friday," Robinson said. "With the
Sinn Fein vote on the rise, it is vital that unionists turn out to vote on
Thursday and vote for the DUP."

"I am baffled: how can Sinn Fein get so much support?" respected British
political journalist Jenny McCarthy asked in the Sunday Telegraph
newspaper. "Sinn Fein's onward march fills me not just with dismay but a
degree of incomprehension."

The reasons in fact, are many:

First, as that shrewd observer of democratic politics and human nature,
Nicholas Murray Butler, observed a century ago, "You can't beat something
with nothing." And Adams is most definitely "something."

The charismatic, dynamic Adams, assured of an overwhelming majority in
his own home constituency of West Belfast, has been campaigning like a
man possessed for other Sinn Fein candidates across Northern Ireland. He
is especially targeting vulnerable Mark Durkan, the decent and well-
meaning but cautious and lackluster leader of the SDLP, in his Foyle
constituency in County Derry. And in this campaign, Durkan has failed to
shrug off the "nothing" label in the face of Adams' "something." Other
SDLP seats in Newry, Armagh and South Down could also fall to the Sinn
Fein juggernaut.

Second, though the popular outrage over the McCarthy killing was deep
and real, it appears to have had a lasting impact only in the small Short
Strand enclave of East Belfast along the Lagan River where McCartney and
his family came from.

Adams also defused much of the anger of over the killing in the Catholic
community by publicly calling on anyone who had any information about
the murder to give it to the police. And on April 26, Sinn Fein formally
expelled two long-time members suspected of being involved. Another four
individuals who refused to make statements to the police about the killing
quit the party.

Further, Northern Ireland's Catholics have been rallying around Adams and
Sinn Fein as they have seen the Rev. Ian Paisley, a lifelong anti-Catholic
firebrand, and his Democratic Unionist Party poised to sweep the more
moderate Ulster Unionist Party off the board in Thursday's vote. Most
estimates expect the DUP to capture 12 parliamentary seats in the election,
leaving only two for the UUP. The DUP may even take those. And like
Durkan, UUP leader David Trimble is fighting for his own political life
against a powerful; DUP challenge.

In the face of all this, Northern Ireland's Catholics are rallying for their
tougher, more unyielding and therefore comforting champions: Sinn Fein.
And, of course, the dynamic flows both ways. The stronger and more
dangerous Sinn Fein looks, the more Protestant Unionist voters are
flooding to Paisley and the DUP.

That is why Seamus Mallon, a long-time prominent figure in the SDLP,
warned this week Northern Ireland faced the danger of a splintering or
"Balkanization" of its two communities into isolated mutually suspicious
and hostile enclaves after Thursday's vote.

Indeed, far from isolating Sinn Fein, the flood of international
condemnation of it appears to have helped it. For the tough, warring
communities in Northern Ireland, for all their differences, share a grim,
craggy independence of mind and determination to let no outsiders tell
them how to think or behave.

And, as Winston Churchill noted more than 80 years ago during an earlier
Irish peace process, they remain determined to uphold "the integrity of
their ancient quarrel."


Adams Predicts Peace Talks Will Resume After Election
2005-05-03 14:20:07+01

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has reiterated his view that peace talks in
the North will resume shortly after the forthcoming Westminster election.

The two main unionist parties have both insisted that they will not
negotiate with Sinn Féin until the IRA has verifiably disbanded and

However, making a final appeal to voters today, Mr Adams said he had no
doubt that the Irish and British governments would establish a new round
of talks after the election.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Mark Durkan has claimed that a strong vote for
Sinn Féin in Thursday's election will only serve to strengthen the
Democratic Unionist Party.

Mr Durkan said the DUP would have greater influence in the House of
Commons if Sinn Féin made major gains in the election because of the
latter's policy of not taking its Westminster seats.


Northern Voters Go To Polls Tomorrow

04 May 2005 09:04

The Democratic Unionist deputy leader, Peter Robinson, has expressed
alarm at claims by Sinn Féin that republicans could emerge with the
strongest vote in tomorrow's election.

Sinn Féin vice president Pat Doherty said canvass returns for the party
indicated that it was a possible outcome.

Mr Robinson insisted the unionists must avoid what he called the
nightmare scenario of republicans speaking for Ulster after the votes are

Sinn Féin is targeting SDLP seats in Foyle, Newry & Armagh, and South

Party activists believe the battle between their general secretary Mitchel
McLaughlin and SDLP leader Mark Durkan is tight but they are confident
that they could emerge victorious.

They also believe that Conor Murphy will gain Newry and Armagh and that
they will put in a strong challenge in South Down where Caitriona Ruane is
taking on the SDLP's Eddie McGrady.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan insisted his party was happy that a strong vote
would turn out for them, if there was a high enough number of voters, at
the polling booth.

Senior Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey said it was clear that the DUP and
Sinn Féin wanted to carve up Northern Ireland between them after the

The DUP and Ulster Unionists are also engaged in a bitter battle, with Ian
Paisley's party aggressively targeting five UUP seats in East Antrim, South
Antrim, South Belfast, North Down and David Trimble's constituency in
Upper Bann.

The DUP's hopes are high of taking the bulk of those seats but Ulster
Unionists insist their vote is far more robust than some pundits and
opponents are predicting.

As the campaign reached its final stage, Prime Minister Tony Blair
yesterday insisted Northern Ireland would remain a priority if he was re-

Mr Blair said that while a political impasse existed there, there had been a
lot of progress but the remaining challenges for unionists and republicans
remained the same.


Who's Facing Who In The 10 Key Ulster Election Battlegrounds

By Chris Thornton
04 May 2005

There could be recounts galore when Northern Ireland officials get down to
tallying the ballots for Election 2005 on Friday.

This side of polling, so many races look close that at least one-third of the
18 seats being fought could change hands.

The last General Election saw some of the UK's closest contests fought out
in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein took Fermanagh-South Tyrone by 53 votes
and the UUP held East Antrim by 128 votes. Recounts were held in both
areas and in Upper Bann.

The contests may not be so tight this time, but some will see political
fighting just as fierce.


• David Trimble took over Northern Ireland's largest political party when he
became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1995. A decade later he is
fighting for his personal and party survival. In 2001, Mr Trimble's majority
over DUP candidate David Simpson was 2,058. This time the gap has
narrowed considerably - in the 2003 Assembly election, the DUP finished
just 386 votes behind. Both unionist parties are claiming the edge. Some
SDLP and Alliance voters appear to have supported Mr Trimble in 2001.
Whether or not they back him again could be an important factor.


• Nationalism's big battle is being fought between SDLP leader Mark
Durkan and Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin. When John Hume held the
seat, victory was a cert for the SDLP. Now that he's retired, Sinn Fein sees
its chance and has been pouring resources into the constituency. Again, a
big gap between the parties was closed at the 2003 Assembly election. The
SDLP's 2001 majority of 11,550 dwindled to just over 1,500 - a difference
that Sinn Fein says it is capable of closing with a big turnout of its
supporters. There are also suggestions that unionist voters might support
Mr Durkan to keep out Sinn Fein, but unionists say they aren't seeing
indications that that will happen.


• The rise of the DUP was signalled in 2000 when Rev William McCrea
confounded the pundits to take the seat for Ian Paisley's party in a by-
election. The UUP's David Burnside took it back in 2001, but he and Mr
McCrea are going head to head for the third successive election. Yet again,
the 2003 Assembly election signalled what could happen here. The DUP
slipped 298 votes in front of the UUP, with more than 700 other anti-
Agreement unionist votes there for the asking.


• The commanding majority of retiring MP Rev Martin Smyth doesn't matter
- this constituency is the scene of one of the most serious unionist fights.
Smelling blood, the DUP have campaigned hard to try to push relative
unknown Jimmy Spratt ahead of UUP contender Michael McGimpsey. The
SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell keeps saying he could take the seat, but he
would need a perfect storm - a near equal split of the unionist vote and the
collapse of Alex Maskey's Sinn Fein vote - to ride through the middle.


• Eddie McGrady postponed his expected retirement to fight for the South
Down seat and give the SDLP its best chance of victory. He starts as the
firm favourite. Sinn Fein has been playing down Caitriona Ruane's
chances, possibly in the hope that unionist voters will stay at home rather
than back Mr McGrady. This is one area where there is a history of some
cross-community voting.


• The DUP's Sammy Wilson missed out on victory by 128 votes in 2001,
then managed his party's vote transfers perfectly in 2003 to capture three
of the six Assembly seats. Roy Beggs' hold on the seat for the UUP looks
shaky but once again there is a chance that SDLP and Alliance voters who
want to keep out the DUP could help him.


• Lady Sylvia Hermon appears to be the safest of the UUP's sitting MPs, but
that's not saying much in this election. Peter Weir of the DUP has been
given a great chance to capture the seat after the withdrawal of UK Unionist
Robert McCartney and the entry of the Alliance Party's David Alderdice,
after his party stood aside for Lady Hermon last time around. Alliance
supporters could be the key. They delivered Lady Hermon the seat in 2001,
but may not appreciate that her party has been linked to Alliance
allegations of "dirty tricks".


• Seamus Mallon's SDLP bastion is under serious threat from Sinn Fein. Mr
Mallon's replacement as SDLP candidate, Dominic Bradley, is the underdog
behind Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy.


• The MP should remain the same, but the seat will probably go down as a
DUP gain. Jeffrey Donaldson switched from the UUP to the DUP weeks
after the 2003 Assembly election. If he wins, the size of his majority will be
an important indication of how far the DUP has conquered the hearts of
former UUP supporters.


• The tightest constituency fight in 2001 is unlikely to be close again. The
unionist vote in Fermanagh- South Tyrone will split between the DUP and
UUP, and the nationalist vote is expected to swing solidly behind the sitting
MP, Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew.


Odds-On Certs And Outside Chances

By Brian Hutton
04 May 2005

The leaders of the UUP and the SDLP are today fighting for their political
lives as punters in Northern Ireland bet against their odds of survival.

Just one day before the polls open, bookmakers are predicting that both
parties will be reduced to one Westminster seat each after voting closes
tomorrow night.

Also, bets are now been refused on nine candidates who are viewed as
certain wins.

It is forecast that both David Trimble and Mark Durkan will lose out to their
opponents in their own constituencies.

Both politicians will undoubtedly be challenged about their ability to lead
their respective parties should they fail to secure electoral success.

The closest contest across the 18 constituencies is expected in Foyle
where Mark Durkan is battling to hold onto his mentor John Hume's seat.

But the bookies are predicting against it, offering odds of 4-7 against on
Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin scraping past him and putting to an end the
SDLP's historic grip on Foyle.

On evens, Mark Durkan is not reckoned to be an attractive bet.

David Trimble, the outgoing MP for Upper Bann, was last night
commanding odds of 2-1 to retain his seat.

His DUP rival David Simpson is seen as hot favourite to clinch the
constituency with odds of 2-7.

If the bookmakers are to be believed, only one SDLP and one UUP
candidate will be returned.

Eddie McGrady (SDLP) is expected to retain South Down, on odds of 1-8,
while Lady Sylvia Hermon (UUP) is tipped to hold North Down on 1-4.

DUP candidates Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson, Iris Robinson, Nigel Dodds
and Jeffrey Donaldson are all seen as certain wins, with Eastwood's and
Sean Graham's no longer taking bets on them.

Offers on Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty and
Michelle Gildernew have also been stopped.

Although the DUP's Jimmy Spratt, on 4-9, is favourite to win South Belfast,
SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell, on 7-4, and former UUP minister
Michael McGimpsey on 5-2 are seen as having a chance.

If the punters are right, Northern Ireland's political landscape will be altered
significantly with 10 DUP MPs, 6 Sinn Fein MPs and one MP each from the

In Britain, Tony Blair's Labour is predicted to romp home with odds of 1-33,
with the Conservatives, led by Michael Howard, several lengths behind on

The Liberal Democrats, under Charles Kennedy, are still seen as outsiders
with a price of 150-1, according to Ladbrokes.


Caution Over Orange Twelfth Plans

By William Allen and Geraldine Mulholland
03 May 2005

Business leaders in Londonderry today sounded a note of caution after it
emerged that talks were under way to secure a major Twelfth
demonstration in the city.

Yesterday Orange Order chiefs revealed they were taking part in a number
of initiatives ahead of the first full Twelfth parade to be held in the city for
13 years.

It emerged yesterday that examples set by the Apprentice Boys, who have
enjoyed largely peaceful parades in recent years, are being adopted by the
Orange Order in its efforts to promote a festival atmosphere.

This includes using a local drama group to re-enact historical scenes.

A spokesman for the City of Londonderry Grand Orange Lodge said talks
were ongoing to ensure the event passed off peacefully.

However, a Chamber of Commerce spokesman today said the full process
followed by the Apprentice Boys and the Royal Black Preceptory was not
being adopted yet by the Orange Order.

Although he did not elaborate, it is understood he was referring to an
absence of the Bogside Residents Group from the current talks.

The spokesman said: "Whilst talks were ongoing between the Orange
Order and some interested parties, the process isn't yet fully set up to
make sure that sufficiently calm celebrations, as take place during
Apprentice Boys and Black Preceptory parades, can be achieved.

"The Orange Order are aware of certain steps that are required and, while
they are very actively negotiating with a range of parties, there is an
obvious route and process that has achieved success before and has not
been adopted by them.

"We want to lessen any opposition to the parade, wherever it comes from,
and we have had immense help from a number of people in trying to do so.

"Hopefully we can take on the concerns of all groups out there," he added.

Recent years have seen the Apprentice Boys and the Royal Black
Preceptory enjoying unopposed parades around the Diamond area in
Derry's city centre after talks hosted by the City Centre Initiative.

The Orange Order spokesman said yesterday he was confident that the
latest talks with business, community and political leaders will achieve the
same result.


'Family-Friendly' Look To Twelfth

By Andrea Clements
04 May 2005

Plans to make July 12 celebrations in Belfast more family friendly are in

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is to fund a consultant for the
County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast.

Following meetings with representatives of the Order, Diversity Challenges,
a company which works to improve relationships between culturally
specific groups and the community, is seeking a co-ordinator for events.

Interviews will be held in mid May to find someone to work in advance of
this year's celebrations.

After July 12 the consultant will review the project and plan for future

He or she will oversee projects which could include developing the "full
tourist potential" of the occasion.

And they will help tackle alcohol and litter issues.

An art competition, producing a booklet featuring memories and stories
about the occasion, and incorporating floats into the celebrations are
among events that may take place.

Work to attract families to activities at "the field", may also be done.

The consultant will try to gain support from Orange lodges, districts, bands
and parade-goers.

One skill the successful candidate must display is "an understanding and
empathy" of the occasion.


Two Gang Suspects Had Provo Connections

WITHIN hours of a third man being arrested for the botched kidnapping in
Cork, a new — and potentially sensational — dimension began to filter
through to the media.

Two of the three men arrested had Provisional IRA connections, it
emerged. But the prospect that this might be another Northern Bank
situation quickly dissipated when the identities of the suspects emerged.

There were indeed Provisional connections, but the indications were that
they were in the past the most reliable information from security sources
last night suggested that the Provos had severed connections with the
main suspects several years ago.

The likelihood was this was a purely criminal enterprise, said the sources,
although possible dissident republican associations were not being wholly
ruled out.

One of the alleged gang members was a senior IRA figure for many years
but fell out with the Provo leadership in recent years because of suspected
criminal activities.

On the fact of it, this Dundalk man had an impeccable IRA CV. His
involvement in the IRA would have coincided with many of those who have
moved to the forefront of the political side of the movement in recent years.

From a strong republican family, he was suspected of being in an IRA gang
that killed a British army captain in 1980. Arrested for involvement in the
murder, he was one of eight prisoners who made a spectacular breakout
from prison in 1981, while on remand. He fled to the South and is believed
to have spent most of his time in Co Kerry while on the run.

Within a year, he was arrested by gardaí. He was tried under extra-
jurisdictional legislation by the Special Criminal Court and sentenced to 10
years' imprisonment, which he served in Portlaoise Prison.

Upon his release, this man returned to Dundalk, where he was nominally
unemployed. In 2001, he was one of a number of IRA men who were
granted what amounted to a pardon or amnesty from the British
Government, under arcane "royal prerogative" provisions. It allowed him
return to the North without fear of prosecution.

However, gardaí continued to harbour suspicions that this republican was
involved in criminal activities, including racketeering, smuggling and
robberies. However, at some stage in the past five or six years it was
unclear whether this was been done on behalf of the republican movement
or for purely criminal motives.

He was arrested in 1999 in connection with the robbery of £1 million worth
of cigarettes from a train in Dunleer but the case was not brought to

In recent years, he has been targeted by the Criminal Assets Bureau. He
had a six-figure tax judgment lodged against him in the High Court last

A Sinn Féin representative in the South said it would be premature to make
any comment in light of the circumstances where no charges have yet been

However, politically, it is highly unlikely that this incident will have any
Northern Bank-style ramifications for the republican movement.


Blair Says NI Is Still A Priority

Northern Ireland will remain a priority for him if he is re-elected, Tony Blair
has said.

Embarking on the final leg of the election campaign, Mr Blair told the BBC
the way forward was still obvious.

He said republicans must work by exclusively peaceful means and
unionists must share power on that basis.

He said: "That's the deal there has been all these years and it is still the

"It's the only deal that is ever going to be done."

Power-sharing under devolution has been suspended in Northern Ireland
since October 2002.

Since then, republicans have faced intensifying demands for the winding
down of the IRA.

Last month, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called on the IRA to consider
abandoning armed struggle in favour of Sinn Fein's political path.

I think given some more time and effort we can get this thing done

Tony Blair

Unionist and others have reacted sceptically to the timing of the call
because it was made during the election campaign.

Mr Blair has visited Northern Ireland more than 40 times as prime minister.

He said on Tuesday: "I know obviously at the moment there is an impasse
but if you compare Northern Ireland today with Northern Ireland eight years
ago, it's a different place.

"That is not to say the problems aren't very frustrating but on the other
hand I think given some more time and effort we can get this thing done.

"I am very sure of it. For the people of Northern Ireland it's essential that we
do that.

"I don't underestimate the problems at all. But I think if you look back
Northern Ireland has come a long way, the economy has come a long way.

"As a result the communities can at least talk about working together in a
way that they couldn't before."

DUP reaction

The DUP leader, Ian Paisley said Mr Blair's remarks had let "the cat out of
the bag" about his future intentions.

"The Prime Minister has now revealed himself that he is determined, come
what may, to bring Sinn Fein/IRA into government.

"He has sold himself to have the representatives of IRA terrorists in the
government of Northern Ireland on their terms," he said.

Mr Paisley used the comments to again urge people to support his party.

"As our forefathers were able to stop the madness of Downing Street in
1912, so we can stop the madness of Downing Street in 2005."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/05/03 15:52:34 GMT


Police Probe Into Alleged Electoral Fraud In Foyle

By Noel McAdam
03 May 2005

A second police investigation into alleged electoral fraud is under way in
Foyle, it was confirmed today.

With just two days before the double elections, a PSNI spokesman said the
investigation involving postal votes is in the "very early" stages.

Police were called in by chief electoral officer, Denis Stanley, who had no
immediate comment to make today.

Mr Stanley also called police in to investigate claims in the Dungannon
area last week where a number of interviews have now been conducted.

There was no immediate indication which political party stood to gain from
the alleged fraud attempt in Foyle, where SDLP leader Mark Durkan is
facing a strong challenge from Sinn Fein chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin.

Both investigations are believed to centre on claims that postal votes have
somehow allegedly been switched into proxy votes - which can be cast by
another person.

Party political sources have already pointed to a substantial increase in
applications for postal votes in Foyle.


Vandals Damage Valued Sculptures In Mayo

Vandals have caused around €100,000 worth of damage in attacks on
three valuable sculptures in Kiltimagh, Co Mayo.

The sculptures included one of the blind 19th century poet Raifteirí, who
was born in Kiltimagh.

The granite stone sculpture was beheaded over the bank holiday weekend.

A second sculpture, a bronze depiction of a station master, was pulled out
of its concrete base, and smashed with either a stone or hammer.

A third piece, The Lady and the Fairies, was also smashed, and cannot be

Local community activist Brian Mooney has described the attacks as
wanton acts of vandalism.

"The people of Kiltimagh have been very proud of their sculpture park, and
to think that, on one night, vandals can smash, plunder and break is
disgusting," he said.

It is believed to have been the worst act of vandalism in the town, which is
just 10 minutes from Knock shrine.

Gardaí in Swinford and Kiltimagh are investigating

They are appealing for any witnesses to the incident to come forward.

© The Irish Times


EUR100m Plan For New Concert Hall Unveiled

Deirdre Falvey, Arts Editor

The National Concert Hall has unveiled a plan for a new 2,000-seat
auditorium in a development that could cost more than €100 million.

The development is a "once in a lifetime" chance to build a state-of-the-art
concert performance centre at the concert hall after UCD moves its
medicine and engineering faculties from Earlsfort Terrace next year, NCH
chairman Dermot Egan said.

The development will involve a three-venue performance centre including a
new auditorium with 2,000 seats, the refurbishment of the existing 1,200-
seat auditorium into a 900-seat venue, and a smaller hall catering for 400.

Among the problems with the current auditorium is it cannot be used
simultaneously with the John Field room because the sound carries.

The size of the auditorium also limits the economic viability of events, said
NCH director Judith Woodworth.

For example, José Carreras, who was at the Point last weekend, would not
be an economic proposition for the 1,200-seater NCH; the same would have
applied to Placido Domingo's concert.

"When compared with Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, London and
Birmingham, we are the smallest, the oldest and the most restricted even
though we date from 1981. We are lagging in the development of a concert
hall of 1,800-plus seats," said Mr Egan.

Klaus Unger, senior architect at the Office of Public Works, said yesterday
there was "significant scope" to make a new building for contemporary
use, subject to planning permission.

UCD faculties are due to leave Earlsfort Terrace by the end of next year.
The issue of what happens at the city-centre site, which borders Iveagh
Gardens, will then be imminent.

The strategic development of the NCH is in the Programme for Government
and last week the Minister for Arts, John O'Donoghue, said his department
was discussing with the Department of Education and Science, the OPW
and UCD the "financial and other implications of meeting the needs both of
UCD and the NCH".

He said he hoped to bring a joint submission to Government soon.

Mr Egan said the redevelopment of the site could generate over €50 million
a year for the local economy.

He estimated that the Earlsfort Terrace site, which covers about seven
acres, is worth about €40 million. Redevelopment and building costs could
be over €100 million on a phased basis, he added.

Mr Egan said there was a strong cultural and business case to be made for
the Government to grasp the opportunity to acquire the site.

Last year 396 concerts were staged at the NCH, while attendance figures
were 280,683, averaging at 74 per cent of capacity, the annual report of the
NCH for 2004, published yesterday, showed.

The first quarter of 2005 saw attendance up to 83 per cent, which compares
well with concert halls in Europe, Mr Egan said.

The NCH received a Government subsidy of €1.6 million (about a third of
annual income) and made a "modest profit" of €17,497. The NCH is a State
body with a remit to break even and to invest in cultural inclusiveness, the
annual report notes.

© The Irish Times


Wicklow Mountains Park Plan Unveiled

Tim O'Brien

A five-year plan has been launched for the management and development
of the 17,000-hectare Wicklow Mountains National Park.

It is hoped the plan will become a blueprint for the conservation of natural
heritage, while encouraging sustainable facilities for visitors and those
who live and work within the park's confines.

It is the first of such plans for the Republic's six national parks.

One of the priorities of the plan is to identify the boundaries and access
routes into the park. Additional land currently belonging to Coillte, which
might at some point be included in the park, will be identified.

Specifically the objectives for 2005 include:

the mapping, checking and auditing of access points and boundaries;

an access audit of the park for visitors with limited mobility, and the
promotion of a universally accessible nature trail;

the preparation of a vegetation map of the park;

a review of the education programme for the park;

the completion of the sensory garden at the Glendalough Information

construction of a new coronation bridge at Bolger's Cottage, underpinning
the plan's commitment to the provision of greater access;

the unveiling of a "wild camping code" for the park in conjunction with the
Irish Mountaineering Council and some other user groups;

the preparation of a hydrology report for Shranamuck, otherwise known as
the cut-over area of the Liffey Head Bog, with a view to restoring the habitat
to its pre-cutting state;

the completion of stone pitching of the White Route at Glendalough.

The plan is to be implemented by a staff of 18 based at the park in
conjunction with the wider Parks and Wildlife Service, as well as the
Wicklow National Park council which represents farmers and recreational

The budget plan for the management of the park has been increased by 65
per cent to €1.75 million in 2005.

© The Irish Times


Waterford Crystal Set To Shut Factory With Loss Of 400 Jobs

Chris Dooley, Industry and Employment Correspondent

Waterford Crystal is expected to end months of speculation today with the
announcement that its Dungarvan plant is to close with the loss of 400

A smaller number of job cuts are also expected at the company's flagship
plant in Waterford city, which currently has nearly 1,100 employees.

Workers at both plants were bracing themselves for confirmation of the
news last night after the company called general staff meetings for today.

Employees of the Dungarvan factory, which has been the subject of intense
speculation about its future since last year, will learn their fate at a meeting
in the town at 10am.

The general meeting of workers at the Kilbarry plant in Waterford city is to
take place this afternoon.

A company spokesman declined to comment yesterday on local reports
that the Dungarvan factory is to close, having operated for just over three
decades. "We don't comment on speculation," he said.

Local sources insisted, however, that the financially troubled company
would not have called general meetings unless it had a very significant
announcement to make.

Walter Cullen of the ATGWU, which represents about 1,100 of the
company's workers, said the union had not been informed of any decision.

"It is outrageous that our members are listening to speculation about the
future of the Dungarvan plant before the company has conveyed any of its
plans to the workers or the union. That is unacceptable," he said.

Fears for the company's future operations have been growing since last
September when employees at both plants were placed on short-time

The move followed a three-year decline in the company's profits, which has
continued. The firm has been badly hit by the sharp decline in the value of
the dollar, as well as falling sales in the United States.

Workers at the two plants have not received pay increases due under
Sustaining Progress and have co-operated with a series of cost-cutting
measures in recent years.

The company said the short-time working would enable it to reduce
inventories and re-establish balance between supply and demand.

In March, however, parent company Waterford Wedgwood issued a profit
warning, announcing that total sales for the year to March 31st were likely
to be down 6 per cent.

As a result, financial results for the year would be below current market
expectations, it said.

Speculation about the future of the Dungarvan plant has centred on the
company's failure to carry out an overdue refurbishment of the factory's

It is anticipated, however, that efficiencies will also be sought at the
Waterford city plant, resulting in limited job losses.

There was strong political reaction to news of the expected job cuts.
Senator Brendan Kenneally (Fianna Fáil) said closure of the Dungarvan
plant would be a "huge blow".

Dungarvan-based Fine Gael TD John Deasy said he had been speaking to a
number of workers and they were expecting the worst.

© The Irish Times
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