Rapturous reception for Oliver at An Grianán

A review by Will Burton

Building on the success of Annie last year, the Letterkenny Musical Society has produced another warm and lovable play for the loyal An Grianán audience. I have to admit that I do not have any recollection of reading or watching Oliver Twist before. It is hard to believe I know, given how popular the novel and the much loved musical adaptations are. Even more embarrassing is that I am from Portsmouth, where the author was born.

The production of Oliver Twist at An Grianian was the perfect introduction to the story with great performances by all the actors. The children in particular stood out, and delivered a performance to be proud of as for some it was their stage debut.

Mr Bumble is played by Highland Radio’s very own Donal Kavanagh, and his character’s looming presence is superb on stage. He towers over the children in the workhouse and booms when Oliver asks for more gruel for dinner. The softer side of Mr Bumble is thrilling to watch as his wandering eye is drawn closer and closer to Widow Corney, played by Maria Heekin.

The music was beautiful with renditions of “Food, Glorious Food”, “I’d Do Anything”, “Oohm Pah Pah” and “Who Will Buy?”, which wooed the audience with some of them even singing along.

The characters’ costumes and make-up were very effective. Fagen, the spindly crook and chief pick-pocketing orchestrator, sang with a faux innocent, “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” which delighted the audience.  Fagen’s protégé, Bill Sykes, seems to be behind every corner on the stage, thundering and stomping his menacing boots everywhere.

The theatre was full for the performance on Thursday night with people of all ages. Scene after scene was concluded with rapturous rounds of applause and deservedly so.  The musical was produced by the Letterkenny Musical Society for the second time. In 2000 the show was very warmly received and judging by tonight’s performance, the cast can expect the same rave reviews by the public and media alike.

We need more than ‘lip-service’ to Derry’s unemployment problems – Colum Eastwood MLA.

 

MLA Colm Eastwood

Will Burton reports on the employment challenges facing Derry.

 

Former mayor of Derry, Colum Eastwood SDLP MLA, is not shy in speaking up for the rights of citizens in Derry and the Northwest. He feels strongly about the lack of civil service jobs based in the city. In recent ministerial questions, it was revealed to Mr Eastwood that 4.85% of civil service jobs were based in Derry with over 60% of civil service positions being located in the greater Belfast area.

Despite the city hosting the City of Culture 2013 and the Fleadh, not one civil service post from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) is based in Derry. Mr Eastwood has repeatedly urged decentralisation to help with Derry’s unemployment issues.

The City of Culture will provide a source of revenue for Derry next year with increased visitor numbers and economic activity in the city as well to to the rest of Northern Ireland. In light of this Mr Eastwood feels the commitment to the city should be more forthcoming from Stormont.

“The people of Derry have delivered the City of Culture for the city, but we need government support to make it happen. I think it is clear that if we are going to have a City of Culture, then we should have the Department of Culture having staff in the city,” said Mr Eastwood.

He was quick to add that decentralisation will not fix Derry’s unemployment woes, yet it would go some way to improve the imbalance between Belfast and Derry.

“Decentralisation is in essence about job-sharing, distributing the economic capacity of the state in a fair manner. This is blatantly not the case at present”, he added.

Mr Eastwood has used ministerial questions in Stormont to press for answers about the lack of movement on the Bain Report which urged re-location of civil service jobs, “to improve regional economic balance.”

With an obvious passion for Derry, Mr Eastwood stresses the need for the Executive to show the people of Derry that they care about the city and its prospects.

“We are glad to see they are paying lip service to the issue, but we need a lot more than that”, he said, “We are the second city of Northern Ireland and have real potential for economic growth.”

“The Northern Ireland government needs to prove that they are committed to Derry, I think people will have seen for a long time a lack of commitment by government to our city.”

Wide-scale resistance to the household charge in Donegal

 

William Burton investigates public reaction to the imposition of the household charge in Donegal

 

The implementation of the household charge of €100 has been one of the most controversial aspects of the economic collapse in Ireland. With revenue sources depleted after the property crash, the government is seeking additional revenue raising powers, demanded by the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund after the bail-out in November, 2010.

With the collapse of the property boom in Ireland, the construction reliant tax-base was eroded and government spending increased due to increased unemployment. The household charge and the eventual property tax are to replace the exchequer element of local government finances, set up in 1999 as a source of funding for local services.

Ireland had domestic rates until they were abolished for electoral reasons by a Fianna Fail government in 1979. People are not used to domestic charges on their property in Ireland. Property related revenue funds are greatly diminished from the so-called “Celtic Tiger” period.

An energetic and dedicated Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay Campaign has resulted in over 700,000 households having not paid by the deadline date, 31st March. This in some ways is not surprising. The government rolled out the same TDs, over and over again, to try and persuade people to pay. The message was simple from the government. Local services needed to be paid for and central government can no longer fund local services such as road repairs, libraries and fire and emergency services.

The bailout by the troika (EU, ECB, IMF) was underpinned by an agreement for Ireland to implement a range of revenue-raising exercises. The household charge, to be followed next year by a progressive property tax, is just one of those exercises.

The Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign is buoyed by members of the United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein who oppose the charge. Pádraig Maclochlainn, Sinn Fein TD for Donegal North East, is urging people to resist paying the household charge which he considers an unfair tax.

“The Government has chosen to implement a household charge that is regressive and clearly unfair. Our choice would have been different. We believe in a fair and progressive taxation system,” said Mr Maclochlainn.

Citizens were confused as to what the charge was for, and, because they did not receive a physical bill, there was no urgency. It is fair to say that for many citizens they felt that there was no tangible benefit in paying this charge. The people did not cause this economic meltdown, so in theory the people should not pay for it.

In County Donegal the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay Campaign, has been especially successful in persuading people not to pay. When driving anywhere in the county there are placards and signs attached to lampposts urging people to resist and to not register for the charge. By the 31st March, 2012, 70% of homes had still not paid the charge.

Donegal County Council is urging people to pay or otherwise they warn there will be a significant shortfall in revenue for the council to provide services such as road repairs, libraries and crucially, fire and emergency services.

The clergy in Donegal have spoken up about the issue. Gaoth Dobhair priest Father Brian O’Fearraigh has urged people to resist the payment which he calls, “unfair and unjust.”

Father O’Fearraigh recently addressed a large protest in Letterkenny in which he urged people to keep fighting: “We, the people say: No to household charges. We the people say: No to water charges. We the people say: No to septic tank registration fees. We the people say: We Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay.”

The intervention of Father O’Fearraigh in the debate has been met with criticism by a local Labour Senator, Jimmy Harte, who said: “It is totally irresponsible for a member of the Church to say to people not to pay the charge.”

Referring directly to Father O’Fearraigh, Senator Harte suggested he should re-read his scriptures and remember that when the Jews did not want to pay their taxes to Caesar, Jesus said: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.” For Senator Harte, the same principle applies. “If you use the services, you have to contribute to pay for them,” said the Senator.

County Donegal will suffer if people refuse to pay the household charge, Senator Harte has warned. This in turn will put pressure on local business rates as Donegal County Council needs to raise the revenue because central government is cutting their funding for local services. “You cannot be an à la carte citizen and decide what taxes you will pay, and ones you won’t pay,” Senator Harte added.

What is clear from the debate around the household charge is that the government is not changing course like the septic tank charge. The septic tank inspection charge was significantly reduced from €50 for the first three months, to €5, due to pressure from campaign and rural living groups.

The revenue envisioned from a full, progressive property tax next year, it is hoped, will begin to reduce the gap between government spending and tax-take. The state has pledged under the EU, IMF and ECB bailout to implement a range of taxes and the household charge is just the start. Water charges will be the next hurdle for the government to overcome and persuade people that these additional taxes are needed, and will help the state build a sustainable tax-base.

It is doubtful whether the government will be seen to make any u-turn on the first stage of implementation of the €100 household charge. What cannot be in doubt is the public’s hostility towards further taxes and the furore and passion it creates.