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November 14th 2004

Is community an outdated concept?

A personal view by John Hamilton, Brownhall

Is there any sense of community in this new Celtic Tiger era? To judge by what one reads, sees and listens to, the spirit of brotherhood that nurtured our forefathers seems to be a thing of the past. We appear to have lost the run of ourselves. The cute hoor is admired rather than despised and avoiding our responsibilities as citizens seems to be the order of the day.
This used to be a country where morals and values were paramount, we were taught to behave in a proper way and respect for our fellow man was a given. This still happens, but not as frequently as it used to.
Mind you, with all the Tribunals that are operating at the moment, and the information emanating from them, we have certainly not been set a good example. And although they have led to a certain cleansing of the national soul, it is shocking in the extreme to learn how some of our leaders have behaved over the years.
Does it matter? I think it does! It is much more agreeable to live in harmony than at loggerheads with our fellow man.
The late Frank O’Kelly left me with a word I will not forget – ‘pluralism’. Defined as ‘tolerance of a variety of people’s opinions in society’. It, to me, is the only way a community can exist and function in peace and harmony.
You printed a letter recently that analysed the life of a community project from the initial enthusiastic coming together, the gradual onset of disillusionment - and ending up with eventual disintegration in rancor and acrimony.
But how many of these community projects are properly run, encouraging people to mix together, from whatever base they come? How many practice tolerance and value the variety of people’s experiences? These projects should be forums where ideas are shared and people can learn more about each other, enriching their own, and everyone elses, life. Occasionally we hear of communities where great things have been accomplished and one wonders how. They obviously had the spirit and, slowly over the years, they achieved their dreams. More common is the scene where inclusion is not on the agenda and instant repulsion faces anyone who even attempts to think about change. Instead of moving forward and embracing innovation, that concept is repelled - good people who have come forward with ideas are shot down, and the spirit of the community is crippled.
Superficially, everything looks good - tidy buildings, smart houses, expensive cars - but when one scratches a little under the surface, all is not well. Where is the coming together?
In this country seperate schooling dictates that children start off not mixing with each other. Different churches make sure that society runs along parallel lines that rarely touch. The youth have to wait till they get to higher education to integrate their different ideas and views.
Surely in the 21st century, things should not remain like this. ‘It was good enough for me, so it should be good enough for them’, is the probable response - and so it continues on.
The other word I remember Frank O’Kelly using was ‘Bunkeritis’. It isn’t a real world - but it is what it implies. Everyone returns to their bunker and buries themselves in. They don’t want to know. ‘It’s not my problem and if we ignore it, it will go away.’.
It won’t - it will just get worse.
In this country, the most prevalent community spirit is the one that is consumed in great quantities in the public houses all over our land and instead of spirit being defined as the force that gives life to the body, we have the absurdity of it being the force that is stealing life from our society. Cynicism prevails in all aspects of our culture, church, politicians, community and financial institutions.
Is there any area it has not reached? JH

How the other half lives. The Murvagh boys on annual tour in San Lorenzo, Golf Club, Portugal this October.
From left: Domnick Ward, Thomas Carr, Eamonn Hone, Liam Mundy, Brian Neilan, Sean Faulkner, Tommy Gallagher and Hugh Cassidy.

Rumour Machine goes into overdrive in Killybegs

“No point in shooting the messenger” Pringle

Margaret Gallagher

In an interview with Donegal Times, Cllr Thomas Pringle has come out strongly to defend himself and his party against rumours that have been circulating in his home town, Killybegs, in recent weeks. Pringle claims that since the enquiry into allegations made by fisherman Pat Cannon has begun, the rumour machine has gone into overdrive, with accusations that he has written letters on behalf of Cannon, that he has orchestrated the allegations and that he was supporting him 110%. Last week Thomas Pringle came in to the Donegal Times office where he spoke to our reporter, Margaret Gallagher.

Times: It is obvious that you feel you are being subjected to smear tactics by big fishing interests – Why would they want to do this?
Pringle: Well, there seems to be a lot of rumour and innuendo flying around Killybegs since the whole story broke. Various accusations have been levelled against me and Sinn Fein. We had no input whatsoever into any allegations made by Pat Cannon. As I don’t know the substance of his allegations, I can’t comment on what they are.
Times: Do you feel you made your statement too quickly. Knowing what you know now, would you have changed it?
Pringle: I don’t know anything in relation to the substance of the allegations, but they were very serious and obviously the Government has taken them very seriously by initiating an investigation by the Fraud Squad. The call I made for an investigation is basically the same as all the political parties in the country have made - and indeed Fine Gael raised the issue in the Dail. So I think the statement was legitimate. It called for an enquiry and asked for it to be speedy which I think everybody involved in the fishing industry should welcome.
Times: When the story broke were you put under pressure to make a statement?
Pringle: When the story broke, as an elected representative, I received a huge amount of interest from national and local media.
Times: Pat Cannon in his report said he contacted Pat the Cope. Did he contact you?
Pringle: No, he didn’t. It took me totally by surprise when the story broke. I received a phone call telling me to watch the 9 o’clock news as Killybegs had been mentioned on the earlier bulletin.
Times: As a local representative did you feel Pat Cannon should have come to you before making his allegations?
Pringle: I suppose it was a decision for himself – he mustn’t have felt the need to speak to me and I didn’t feel he should have spoken to me.
Times Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have been able to avoid backlash while the investigations are ongoing – this tactic is working for them – because you have spoken out as a Sinn Fein Councillor do you feel you will lose out politically?
Pringle: I feel I can stand on my own integrity and the comments I have made about allegations have been no different than those made by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. It was Fianna Fail who initiated the investigation. Fine Gael raised the issue in Dail and I made a statement saying it had to be investigated fully and that was the only public statement I made on the issue. Obviously, being a councillor from the area, I know Pat Cannon and I know the people involved in the fishing industry - that makes it more difficult. I believe the statement I made is along the same lines that every other party has made on this issue.

Times: When you said you were supporting the whistle-blower, were you supporting what he was saying?
Pringle: Basically what I said in the statement was that whistle-blowers in the past, particularly at the tribunals, have brought serious issues out to the front and the real idea I was trying to get across was ‘don’t shoot the messenger’.
Times: You mentioned in your statement that the fishing industry has been mismanaged for decades – do you think it is mismanaged at local level?
Pringle: No, at national level by the Government. It’s no secret that the fishing industry was sold out when we joined the European Union in order to look after the farmers in the country, which was very short sighted by the government at the time. Successive governments have continued to pursue that policy. We were treated with ministers going to Europe in the midst of doom and gloom and coming back with the cut-back, saying they had saved the industry again. That hasn’t been good for the industry or for the country. The E.U. itself estimates that huge amounts of fish have been caught in Irish waters by other European countries. I believe the value of this far outways the subsidies that we have received for agriculture, or indeed infrastructure, from the European Union and I believe they owe us the amount of revenue for fish that have been caught in our waters. And I blame the Irish Government for allowing this to happen.
Times: There have been a lot of job losses in Killybegs in recent weeks. Do you think you will get blamed for this – probably people who voted for you have lost their jobs.
Pringle: Well, I feel because of the rumours that have circulated around the town that people are trying to say that I am to blame for what has happened and I can categorically state that I had no hand, act or part in Pat Cannon’s allegations. I totally refute reports that I have written letters on his behalf or anything like that, but people will believe what they want to believe and that is the dangerous things about rumours. I can honestly say they are false. However I have to rely on my own integrity and hopefully people will come to see what I am saying is true.
Times: In relation to the statement that appeared in the Donegal Democrat, why do you think that local business have picked on you and your party for supporting the investigations rather than any other party?
Pringle: Well it’s no secret here in Donegal that Sinn Fein had a very successful election and the vote I received in June of nearly 2,350 votes has probably sent shock-waves through the other political parties in the area. Sinn Fein is poised to make a break- through in Donegal in the next general election and I suppose the first battle-lines are being drawn.
Times: Do you feel these business people are speaking out against Sinn Fein rather than you or the fishing industry?
Pringle: It’s against me personally as a member of Sinn Fein.
Times: Also in your statement you say it’s important that the authorities treat the whistle-blower with respect so as not to deter other complainants – do you feel this has been done so far?
Pringle: I think he has got it so far - there hasn’t been anything in the papers about him - it’s me that hasn’t got the respect - it’s easier to attack me than Pat Cannon.
Times: Do you think Killybegs can recover and move on when this is all over?
Pringle: As of now everything is up in the air - everybody is very worried with regard work prospects in the town. I only hope that when this is all done and dusted and investigations are completed that the industry can continue on and develop. It is a very stressful time for everybody
Times: Are you happy with the way the media has reported the issue so far?
Pringle: The Donegal Democrat of the 14th October carried my press release which was actually edited and turned around, with the emphasis changed. This led people to reading and believing things that I wasn’t really saying and thus the rumours started.

Thomas Pringle finished by stating “interestingly the Democrat article of 28th October quotes 16 business people as having written an open letter. I am aware that only 14 signatures were on the letter. Two of the people refused to sign it, but their names were still included when the letter was received by the Democrat. Also in the last day or so I have been contacted by one of the other supposed signatures, Mr Bill Jones, who was actually out of the country when the letter was sent and was totally unaware that his name had been appended to it. This man assured me that there was no way he would he have signed such a letter”.

In the last two weeks Fraud Squad Officers have arrived in the fishing port to investigate the various claims. Headquartered in the Donegal Town Garda Barracks, their first port of call was the Department of the Marine offices in Killybegs. They have also met with the man at the centre of allegations, Pat Cannon. According to journalist, Noel Slevin, who was interviewed by two members of the squad, they are regarding the case with the utmost gravity. Reporting in Donegal on Sunday, he wrote ‘they left me in no doubt of the seriousness with which the investigation is being treated. They said it had to be meticulous and thorough, as the results would be going to the highest level, both in Ireland and the EU’.
It is believed that up to sixteen fraud squad members have taken over the top floor of the Garda barracks in Donegal Town, with officers visiting Killybegs on a daily basis. The squad team have so far limited their investigations to the Department of the Marine office and the man making the allegations, Pat Cannon.
According to KFO Chief Executive, Sean O’Donoghue, “The KFO management or fishermen have not been interviewed or contacted by the investigating team since they arrived, and I imagine that until they have some evidence with regard to the alleged collusion between the Department of the Marine and the KFO, they will not interview us”.
So as the investigations continue, Killybegs remains in limbo, as fishermen, producers, business people, and the public in general, await the next development.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-74-9722860 Fax: +353-74-9722937


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