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January 22nd 2003

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Bring on the Clowns

‘The country’s in a state of chassis’ - with apologies to Joxer in O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock’ for a slight misquote. But never was a statement so true as it is now as we enter the year 2003. No matter in what direction you turn, the outlook is bleak and desolate.

Our health service is in tatters, with many patients on trolleys in A & E departments, because there are no beds. Our teachers are mutinous - morale in the Gardai rock bottom.

There is no money in government coffers - the infrastructure that should have been built and positioned in good times, remains unplaced. Bertie is no leader and Enda Kenny no opposition. Joe Walsh is reviled by the same farmers who less than a year ago conspired to make Bertie change his mind and keep him in cabinet. The fishermen are angry about quotas, anglers despairing at the catastrophic decline in wild salmon stocks - rivers are polluted and drinking water contaminated. Foreign policy is non-existent and Charlie McCreevy proves himself by the day the greatest conman since - well, since the other Charlie.

The defence forces lack tanks - barracks are being downgraded - the airforce need planes - the Taoiseach wants a new jet and the Gardai cannot get anyone to fly their new helicopters, which remain grounded in England.

Inflation is three times the E.U. average - unemployment is rising, factories closing and training courses run by FAS cut in half. The stock market is in the doldrums, with pension funds losing value by the day.

Bus and rail workers are on the march - so are the farmers. Tourism is down, prices are up, our young people binge-drink their brains away and violence is the norm on our streets in the early hours of any weekend day.

Northern Ireland has no home based government - neither has the South. If pre-election promises, like advertisements, came under the scrutiny of a regulatory body, the government would be indicted for misleading the public.

An Taisce and Duchas are trying their best to de-populate the countryside and prevent the onward commercial progress of our towns, aided and abetted by generous government subsidies.

We have no money for health, no money for education, no money for roads, no money for upgrading our woeful infrastructure - our communications network is third world. We have plenty of money for tribunals and the barristers who man them, plenty to generously benchmark the public services and to make sure our TDs and ministers get huge rises and generous expenses.

Brian Cowen has himself tied in knots in his efforts not to upset the mighty Yanks as they blithely land and take-off from Shannon, fully uniformed, the holds of their planes filled with arms. So much for our neutrality, as we assist the U.S. superpower in its criminal intent towards the population of Iraq.

Doctors were paid €12 million to care for some 15,000 patients who did not exist. The ones that did exist and tried to get a hospital bed were not so lucky in the care stakes.

The hours of carers have been slashed, insurance costs are deciminating small business - rates, water and waste disposal charges are rising. Our roads are gridlocked, Luas is a year behind schedule, the port tunnel is too low and, as for the Metro - forget it.

Joyriding in our cities, public order offences, vandalism and attacks on the person, go unpunished as the revolving door system and lack of space in our prisons mean that young offenders are back on the streets again the day after they have been sentenced in court.

In the week that NASA announced that it is considering sending a man to Mars, we can’t even get a train safely from Sligo to Dublin without someone ringing the radio to say the carriages had no heat/light or they had to stand for most of the journey. That is if the train even makes it all the way.

Our national airline can afford to refuse up to 50,000 passengers a year (unaccompanied minors) and the postal service no longer wants to deliver to our doors.

We’re part of a circus - but even as such we can derive no consolation - Fossets, the most famous name in Irish tented entertainment has been refused a grant by the Arts Council and says it will go out of business. But not to worry, we’ll still be entertained - we have plenty of clowns leading the country who will keep us amused!

Donegal Times Person of the Year

Waterbus Captain Billy Bustard Popular Winner

Billy Bustard is Donegal Times Person of the Year 2002. The popular waterbus captain got an overwhelming vote in our annual poll to find the person who it is felt has done most for our community over the past year. In an amazing response, Billy received literally hundreds of votes. As well as locals these were signed by people with addresses from all over the country and abroad. A most deserving recipient of this prestigious award, Billy has probably done more for present day tourism in town than any other person - not to talk of his contribution to the elderly and charitable causes.

A Donegal Town man through and through, Billy has always had an affinity for boats and water. Married to Christine, they have a family of three boys and a girl, Leslie, William, David and Tracey.

The Waterbus arrived to Town in 1996. In its first year it carried 7,000 passengers - this had risen to 20,000 in 2002.

Billy loves life at the pier “I enjoy meeting people - making friends at all levels - I love the peace down the bay - to me it’s just as good today as it was on the first day”.

But as well as the scheduled trips carrying locals and tourists there are others that ferry our senior citizens and those who would normally have never had a chance to enjoy the beautiful ambience of Donegal Bay. Of these, Billy has a special favourite “I love the handicap buses - they start shouting when they see me - it’s worth anything to see the smile on their faces”.

A particular incident that Billy still laughs at occurred in the first year of the boat in 1996. “It was the year we started - the then Deputy, Thomas Gildea TD, arrived at the pier with two lady friends, but unfortunately there was no room on the waterbus. The group said that if I would take them, they would sit outside on the front. After some hesitation, I agreed, but told them they would get wet. As the boat rounded the Hassans, it was hit by a mighty wave, soaking the three outside. This ended my commentary as I was laughing so much at the three drowned ducks that I could not continue. The whole boat was in stitches”.

There is no doubt but that the decision of the people to vote Billy Bustard as Donegal Town Person of 2002 will be a popular one. On our form was a heading ‘reason for nomination’ and the following are just a sample of your replies: ‘Wild life expert’ - ‘generous’ - ‘his kindness’ - ‘great personality’ - ‘knowledge of bay area’ - ‘brings life to pier’ - ‘very obliging’ - ‘community spirit’ - ‘historian’ - ‘when home for holidays from USA at Christmas with my kids, we really enjoyed our trip down the bay, it was beautiful, thanks Billy’ - ‘a very genuine person’ - ‘great promotor of Donegal Town, always wearing a smile’ - ‘commentary delivered in a cheerful pleasant way’ - ‘a gentleman’ - ‘best boat driver in Donegal Town’ - ‘I’ve seen him on the river and he made me shiver’ - ‘don’t tell my husband but he’s a looker’ - ‘nothing is ever a problem for Billy, he would do anything for anyone’ - ‘good hearted man’ - ‘a big dinger’ - ‘very helpful with fundraising events’ - ‘he gives a lot to Donegal Town and expects nothing back’ - ‘brings tourists to town’ - ‘good looking’ - ‘good craic, great stories’ - ‘cheery outgoing person’ - ‘a character’ - ‘knows all the seals on the bay’ - ‘I’m jealous of his big boat but he’s still the captain’ - ‘good natured’ - ‘he feeds the ducks’ - ‘is kind to children’ - ‘does a great service for Donegal Town’ - ‘a good citizen’ - ‘never too busy to help others’ - ‘the good guy on the pier and friend of all’ - ‘pillar of the community, great character’ - ‘great ambassador for Donegal Town’ - ‘for all his goodwill to charities and the elderly’ - ‘he takes my granny down the bay’ - always in good humour’ - ‘provided the most pleasurably experience we’ve ever had - on water’ - ‘because we can’t vote for Patsy Kelly cause he does nothing’ - ‘because he’s my friend’ - ‘without Billy, Donegal would have no leisure facilities at all’ - ‘he made sure we had a great weekend when we visited town’ - ‘ helps a lot with cancer support group outings’.

As can be gathered from these replies - a very popular recipient of Donegal Times award. Our paper and those who contribute to it add congratulations to a most deserving winner - our man at the pier, Billy Bustard.

After receiving the beautiful Waterford Glass Eagle emblem, Billy said “many other people are more deserving of this award. I’m overwhelmed, but would like to thank sincerely all those who voted for me. I would also like to thank the Waterbus committee for their support and Donegal Times for the award - I look forward to many more years taking the waterbus down the bay.”

We congratulate all the other nominees and thank everybody who took time to vote.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-73-22860 Fax: +353-73-22937