Thursday, August 6, 2009


Some recent op-eds from the Evening Herald...

WHO would have thought that the cheerful Thomas Cook assistant who booked your two weeks in the sun was a dangerous outlaw?

They don’t seem the criminal types. Yet while the rest of us were still snoozing in our beds at 5am this morning, around 20 Thomas Cook workers were being arrested by gardai. You would normally associate early morning raids with drug dealers or wanted violent offenders – not with the genial men and women who advise you on the most family-friendly holiday resorts.

Nonetheless the Thomas Cook Twenty (plus) are now languishing in the Bridewell waiting for the full rigours of the law to be meted out on their heads.

The gardai are of course just carrying out orders on foot of a High Court order for the workers to vacate the Grafton Street premises where they have been staging a sit-in protest since last Friday.

It all seems so terribly heavy-handed, not to mention precipitous, to have these frustrated employees hauled before court before the bank holiday weekend is barely out. Who knew our justice system was so efficient?

What a shame the wheels of justice were not able to grind as quickly for the fat cats who brought down the economy. I don’t see the legal repercussions for the greedy bankers and developers whose actions now have the rest of us on our knees, cancelling our holidays and keeping good people like the Thomas Cook employees out of a job.

It is a bizarre reversal of justice that the Marie Antoinettes are allowed to keep their heads while all around them, honest workers like those at Thomas Cook must face the legal guillotine.

There is no comparison between the debauched behaviour of certain moneymen and the measly few extra weeks of redundancy the Thomas Cook workers are looking for. As with all the people who are losing their jobs these days, these employees are looking only to keep their families’ heads above water.

They want to make their mortgages, get their children to school with books and a uniform. They are not asking for help to keep their multi-million empires from crumbling around their ears. They are not audacious. They are decent skins who feel cheated.

Why wouldn’t they? In May there were proposals to shut the Thomas Cook shop on Grafton Street and the Thomas Cook-owned subsidiary, Direct Holidays, on Talbot Street. Staff were willing to take the pain, freeze salaries, do what they could to keep the operation limping along.

Then last Friday they had the rug well and truly pulled out from under them when the Grafton Street shop was closed with immediate effect. That’s it, folks. Go home. Your work here is done.

I wonder if the Thomas Cook employees were thinking about all the August bank holiday breaks they had carefully organised for their customers’ enjoyment. And how they would be spending theirs facing into a bleak hole of unemployment – and desperation, considering the likelihood of securing a new post in the struggling travel industry.

Of course they felt bitter. Of course they felt frustrated. The sit-in protest was completely impromptu. There are women involved with small children who had made no plans to abandon their families for what would normally be the last long weekend of fun before school reopens.

The atmosphere surrounding the Grafton Street shop at the weekend was benign. Local businesses dropped in food. The public, many of whom no doubt had pleasant dealings with the staff in the past, sent messages of solidarity which were pasted up on the walls. The Thomas Cook workers have a lot of sympathy and support behind them.

All of this matters for nothing of course when someone on high decides that you are to be Made An Example Of. Mere office workers shall not be allowed to embarrass Big Business. The Thomas Cook workers are paying a heavier price than they deserve because others failed to pay their share.


By Susan Daly

Saturday August 01 2009

HOLD the front page: A new study says that Irish parents are sleep-deprived.

But read on. The research also finds that most of these parents could change their children's bad sleeping habits in just a few days.

Many are using "unhelpful techniques" in bringing up baby, according to the eggheads.

They reward their children by giving them a drink or toys or taking them into their bed when they wake up at night -- ensuring they'll do it again, night after night.

In a nutshell, or in this case an old chestnut, spare the rod and spoil the child.

Poor parents. Under siege again from the childcare bullies. Well, don't come looking for sympathy from this quarter. I feel like we are a nation overrun with terror tots as a result of misguided -- and I'm being kind there -- parenting.

I'm not talking about the kids who go around setting cars on fire and blinding small animals. They obviously have Jeremy Kyle-level problems.

I mean the more insidious examples of kids behaving badly. The child who talks all over a group of adults because mammy hasn't ever told them to wait their turn to speak.

Too many Irish kids are not well behaved (hate mail to the usual address, please).

Of course there are plenty of nicely mannered children out there. But you don't notice them because they're not the ones yelling at the top of their lungs in a restaurant for chips while their parents act like they have gone spontaneously deaf.

People, mainly parents, rant on about how welcoming restaurants and cafes are to children in continental Europe, compared to your average Irish establishment.

That's because kids in Italy and France are taught from an early age how to behave in public. And it doesn't involve calling your mother anything that rhymes with 'itch', or kicking your dad because he won't let you juggle the steak knives.

Look, I don't hate children. I actually quite like them (although I couldn't eat a whole one). But in the 99pc of cases where your child is not actually the result of a one-night stand with the devil, it IS the parents' fault if they turn into the anti-Christ.

Watch a TV parenting programme like Supernanny and the basic message is always the same. When parents let their kids take control, the kids go out of control.

Now, I realise that an entire industry has cynically grown up around child-rearing, and the advice given out by self-appointed childcare experts can be conflicting.

I feel for first-time parents faced with shelves of instruction books for babies, as if they were some kitchen gadget that is perfectly manageable as long as you know which button to push.

The advice can be confusing. Let them cry it out, says one. Pick them up straight away or they'll feel abandoned, says another. It's like the warnings given out about meeting a bear in a forest: are you meant to climb a tree or play dead?

Sheer information overload gives people an excuse to say, 'There's no right way to raise children'. That's a load of rubbish, too. A dose of common sense is always the way to go.

I'm not advocating a return to the days of 'seen, not heard', but I applaud parents who treat their children as the immature little folk they are.

They don't know what's good for them -- we do. They're not the adults -- we are. The kids will just have to suck it up, and thank you later.


By Susan Daly

Monday August 03 2009

IT can't be an enormous surprise that FAS has seen so few applications for its latest scheme. The idea was that unemployed people would be occupied in unpaid work experience while retaining their benefit payments.

This makes sense for recent graduates who are treading that vicious hamster wheel of not being able to get their first foot in the door of their chosen industry. No experience, no job; no job, no experience.

But a quick poll of lines at the nearest social welfare office would testify to the fact that many of the newly unemployed have reams of experience and qualifications.

The dole queues are not solely occupied by the school-leavers and semi-skilled workers who swelled the ranks of the Live Register two decades ago.

Now the lines are full of professionals with whole careers behind them, arts and sports employees, crafts and tradespeople. These are not people who need to become trainees all over again. So why not make them the trainers?

If the Government looked hard enough -- or at all -- it would see a bright idea staring it in the face.

You wouldn't leave a valuable car out to rust on a beach, so why squander these people's assets on a stagnant dole queue?

There is a seasonal industry that has mushroomed in recent years where these highly skilled people could find a new home for their expertise. There is a summer school for everything these days and they are hugely popular.

Check out the prices being charged by the next summer camp to drop its leaflet through your letterbox. (Around our way, the fliers and circulars took over from where the local election campaign literature left off.)

Parents are shelling out hundreds of euro a week for their budding Ronaldo to attend soccer camp, or for their artistic daughter to daub watercolours in an art course at the bottom of someone's garden.

Kids' extra-curricular activities on school summer break are no longer confined to kicking a ball against the side of the house.

They can learn to climb a rock face, dance a polka, programme a computer.

Parents are anxious to cultivate their talents, keep them entertained and -- you know it's true -- get them out of their hair.

So if we take for granted the idea that the summer course is here to stay, why isn't the Government getting in on the act?

Think of all the schools lying idle during summer: those are your rent-free premises on tap right there.

Add to that the thousands of unemployed, but skilled people, just dying to throw some shape on their day, and you have a winner.

They might receive a nominal fee for their time, but they go home with a sense of purpose and a value-added CV in their future job hunt.

Parents already pay premium rates to private summer camps to allow their kids to indulge their passion for everything from gym to Gaeilge.

Government-run schemes could easily turn a profit by charging parents fees, albeit slightly reduced ones considering how cost-efficient the use of school grounds would be. Parents would get a few euro back, the State coffers would receive a boost, and the instructors would feel more valued by society and less a part of the benefits merry-go-round.

Setting up such a scheme would take a good deal of planning and a fair bit of lateral thinking. But we could be looking at a whole new range of summer camps.

Imagine teens who are into modified cars getting responsible instruction from a mechanic who has seen enough death-trap bangers in his time to be passionate about kids staying out of danger.

Private gyms have been suffering from dropped memberships: wouldn't a recently redundant fitness instructor be the perfect fit for a sports camp? All those out-of-work IT techies -- straight to science camp for you.

As it stands, it is entirely ludicrous not to have some plan B for the newly redundant. This is just one. Isn't it the Department of Trade and Employment's job to -- apologies for the Celtic Tiger phrase -- think outside the box?

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