All posts by James Tait

Council Report

Mal McGreevy began the Coleraine Borough Council meeting on 19th February 2013 with an update on the Coleraine-Derry/Londonderry rail line.

Mr McGreevy, General Manager of Rail Services at Translink, confirmed that the Coleraine-Derry/Londonderry line will reopen one week ahead of schedule on the 24th March.

He continued to outline what progress Translink had made in recent times. The number of services between Belfast and Coleraine had increased by around 70% as numbers of passengers using the service had increased by 10-15% on the previous year.

There will also be a train commencing on the 25th March leaving from Belfast and arriving in Derry/Londonderry at 8.25am – the earliest time a train has arrived at the destination via this route. However, this early train will be 19 minutes longer than the usual journey.

Mr McGreevy said, “We made a commitment many years ago to what some people called the ‘lesser used lines’. We now have no lesser used lines.”

Councillors were impressed by the figures given and were in agreement that it was a good boost for the area.

Cllr McClarty commented, “It is not that long ago that we were predicting the demise of our train line. I think that everyone should be supporting Translink and what they are doing.”

Deputy Mayor Maura Hickey added, “It really does help us economically here in Coleraine. It is a great asset.”

Mr McGreevy completed his presentation by mentioning what needed to be done in future years to consolidate the hard work that has already been completed.

He said, “Over £600 million will be needed in the next 25-30 years just to maintain the network that we have. Without further extensions, services are expected to cost £30 million per year. I think it is important to recognise what we have done but to continue investment.”

A consultation date has been set for the 15th April to discuss further upgrades to the network, including having more six-carriage trains in service.

Fracking Future to be Decided


fracking oil pump

The possibility of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in Northern Ireland could be decided within the next 12 months.

The Northern Ireland Assembly passed a moratorium in December 2011 by 49 votes to 30 to allow more time to assess the safety of the procedure, which Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is yet to introduce. However, Australian company Tamboran are hopeful of starting to extract gas in Fermanagh in 2014.

The fracking procedure involves pumping up to 10 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals into gaps in shale rock hundreds of metres below the ground. This process is intended to fracture the rock, releasing methane gas in doing so. The released gas is then collected in a well located onshore. However, opponents say that too little is known about the process and that an environmental assessment is necessary before continuing.


Phil Flanagan, Sinn Féin MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said that his party are against fracking and that his constituents were “overwhelmingly opposed” to the idea.

He said, “Sinn Féin are opposed to fracking for a number of reasons; the damage that will be done to the landscape, the industrialisation of rural Ireland will devastate tourism, the potential for water contamination is much too great and the additional noise and air pollution that will come with this would be very unwelcome.”

He also claimed, “Fracking will not cause a reduction in energy prices as each pad costs million of pounds to frack. These pads have only become economically viable as a result of recent energy price rises and its success is reliant on continuing price rises.”

Fermanagh resident Elaine Fullerton echoed these views, and told of her worry if fracking is given the go-ahead.

She said, “I wasn’t entirely sure what fracking was until last year, but after a bit of research I can say that I don’t want to see it in Northern Ireland let alone Fermanagh. The evidence points to how unsafe it is, I can’t possibly see how it can be made safe.”

“All we can do is hope the government think of something other than the money it can raise. It isn’t worth the risk, especially if someone could be injured or killed.”

Fracking has already been introduced by other countries. President Barack Obama is a supporter of fracking, although it has been banned in several states including New York and Vermont. There have been numerous reports of incidents involving fracking in the US, including water contamination and small explosions. France, Bulgaria and South Africa are amongst other countries to ban the process.

Despite these incidents, there are arguments for the introduction of fracking in Northern Ireland.  Gas reserves in North West Ireland are estimated to be worth over £80bn, with prices rising. Gas collected by fracking companies can be used as a source of energy for Ireland as well as sold abroad to other countries.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that fracking was not a black and white issue.

He said, “There are concerns of environmental damage, which were less of a concern three years ago, but there is a potentially cheaper form of energy to be gained. If there is potentially some damage then the more concerned I would be.”

He continued, “I would be prepared to contemplate further survey work but I wouldn’t be prepared to rule fracking out completely.”

Ballinamallard local Niall Burke is in favour of fracking, but stressed only if it could be done in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

He said, “I know fracking involves the use of certain chemicals. I’d be against this as I try to be as economically friendly as I can and this would do a great deal of damage. If it can be done somehow without the use of these chemicals then I don’t see why not.

“It would bring a lot of money into Northern Ireland at a difficult time, especially when flag protestors have damaged the country’s reputation to an extent.”

In an interview last year with Natural Gas Europe, CEO of Tamboran Richard Moorman said that the company “will abide by strict environmental policies to ensure that shale gas excavation will not damage the environment in Northern Ireland and will continue to follow the directives of the government in these matters.”

He continued, “Despite the misinformation spread by anti-development groups, we know our operations are safe. With over 4 million wells drilled worldwide, and over 1 million of those hydraulically fractured, there is no question that natural gas can be safely produced in Northern Ireland for the benefit of its citizens and local communities.”

For now, fracking in Northern Ireland has been put on the backburner. The future for this controversial process lies with further tests and environmental assessments to be carried out over the coming year.

A Good Day to Die Hard: Review

Twenty-five years after first hitting our screens, John McClane (Bruce Willis) returns with the fifth instalment of the Die Hard franchise.

Regarded by many as one of the best action films of all time, Die Hard (1988) is looked upon as containing the magical ingredients to make a memorable action film: an evil genius with a master plan, his team of gun-wielding henchmen and a hero to save the day, with plenty of explosions and stunts along the way.

As with many sequels, Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), Die Hard 3: Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) and Die Hard 4.0: Live Free or Die Hard (2007) failed to live up to the standard of the original. Although Die Hard 2 itself was a good effort, the latter additions to the franchise have continually veered from what made Die Hard so popular. A Good Day to Die Hard has followed suit.

Written by Skip Woods (Hitman, The A-Team) and directed by John Moore (Max Payne) the film is let down by its lack of dialogue. Gone are the quirky, memorable one-liners that made the character that is John McClane. There are several attempts at humour, some of which work, but the repeated “I’m supposed to be on vacation” and its variations are noticeably overused and have little effect.

Obviously lacking is the development of the villain. There is no real explanation as to why Komarov (Sebastian Koch) is intent on taking uranium locked away in Chernobyl. It isn’t addressed, nor is his past in-depth. Compared with villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard, there is no real connection or understanding of his plan. The focus is instead on the father-son relationship of McClane and McClane Jr. (Jai Courtney).

There are several elements however that will please fans of the franchise. There is the obligatory fast paced car-chase through the streets of Moscow with a seemingly endless amount of vehicles being damaged, a kill count that is well into the triple figures and a final showdown at Chernobyl complete with a gun-firing helicopter.

A Good Day to Die Hard will no doubt be a hit at the box office with older fans hoping to rekindle the magic of the earlier films and with younger fans keen to see a Die Hard film on the big screen. There are currently no plans for a sixth instalment, so it is probably a good day to call it a day for John McClane.


Northern Ireland’s Alcohol Problem

Alcohol addiction – a report by James Tait


There exists a ‘Why would we give money to help those people?’ attitude in Northern Ireland in regards to alcoholics, according to Dr. Claire Armstrong.

Dr. Armstrong, the Director of Addiction NI, believes that those suffering with alcohol addiction are often overlooked as a charitable cause and wants to raise public awareness of the growing problem.

It is a view shared by recovering alcoholic John, whose name has been changed for identification purposes. He says, “The majority of people are too quick to criticise people like myself. Alcoholism is a disease and those suffering should not be blamed or judged. Not everyone realises it, but alcoholism is progressive. You can never totally recover and go back to the odd drink.”

Rise in alcohol related deaths

There is evidence to suggest that alcoholism is an ever-growing problem in Northern Ireland – client numbers at Addiction NI alone have double in the past five years, and recent figures from the Department of Health indicate that Northern Ireland’s drink culture is affecting public services and cutting lives short. According to these figures, there has been an increase over the past 10 years in alcohol related hospital admissions. There are now over 12,000 of these admissions throughout Northern Ireland per year, piling the pressure onto hospital and paramedic staff.  The number of alcohol-related deaths has risen by around 30% in the last decade and is up to almost 300 per year.

Admissions to hospital with alcohol-related diagnosis


Alcohol-related deaths

Dr. Armstrong was not surprised by these figures, and was keen to add to them. “It affects one in four families in Ireland and it is also now the third leading cause of premature death and ill health in Northern Ireland.”

The topic of alcohol has been heavily featured in the news recently, most notably when the body of 20 year-old Joby Murphy was recovered from the River Lagan in Belfast in February. He had been attending a Snow Patrol concert at the Odyssey arena before going to the Beach Club with friends. It is believed he later walked across the bridge at the Lagan Weir and fell in while heavily under the influence of alcohol. This came just two months after 21 year-old Christopher Connor was found dead at the derelict Montague Arms Hotel in Portstewart after a night out socialising in the nearby Havana club.

A concern for all ages

Dr. Armstrong continued, “We feel it is a concern that alcohol is more accessible than it ever was during all the years we have been running as an organisation. It strikes me a lot that in the 34 years we have been running, the cost of alcohol has dropped by 62%. As it is more accessible, more people are drinking to excess because they feel it is there.”

Dr. Armstrong also highlighted that alcohol is not just a problem for young people, but for people of all ages. “It certainly affects all age groups. More attention is often focused on younger peoples’ drinking than older peoples’ drinking, and there’s also a group that is often regarded as the ‘hidden’ group in the middle of people who can hold a job down, hold a mortgage down, a family down, but yet are still drinking to excess during that whole period. It does affect all age groups; just some age groups are more widely talked about.”

Recovering alcoholic John also stressed that alcohol could become a problem for anyone. “Of course anyone can become a victim. In a lot of cases there is a trigger event that sets it off, but in others there is no such trigger. The disease does not care who you are or what your situation is. It will isolate you and play with your mind.”

Encouraging Figures

Rob Phipps, a member of the Health Development Policy Branch, reiterated the scale of the problem that had to be overcome but pointed towards some encouraging figures. “The proportion of men in Northern Ireland who drink over the recommended weekly limit has fallen from 33% in 2002/3 to 27% in 2010/11. This is encouraging as it is traditionally men who tend to have the worst problem when it comes to drinking in excess. The amount of adult drinkers who binge drink has fallen 8% to 30% in the years between 2005 and 2011. Also, the proportion of young people aged 11-16 who reported getting drunk in 2003 has fallen from 33% to 23% in 2011. It is important to look at these promising statistics as well as the ones that are not maybe as good.”

When asked if he thought the government were doing enough to tackle the problem of alcoholism, Mr Phipps responded, “In January 2012 the Health Minister (Edwin Poots) launched our revised strategy to prevent and address the harm related to alcohol and drug misuse in Northern Ireland, known as the New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs (NSD) Phase 2. The Minister is committed to ensuring that the NSD Phase 2 is implemented as fully and effectively as possible, as approximately £8 million is allocated to its implementation each year and additional funding of around £6.5 million is provided through the mental health budget for the provision of treatment and support services.”

He continued, “The NSD seeks to direct action across five pillars: prevention and early intervention; harm reduction; treatment and support; law and criminal justice; and monitoring, evaluation and research. However, despite progress to date, including the establishment of treatment and support services across Northern Ireland, the development of a youth counselling service, and the availability of education and information programmes, which provide information for parents and young people, are being taken forward in schools, clubs and across local communities, we are keen to do more across Government – and there is a clear commitment from the executive to address this issue.”

“It’s never too early or too late to seek help”

The majority of clients at Addiction NI successfully complete programmes. However, this does not necessarily mean that the problem has been overcome, as Dr. Armstrong explains. “Around a third of people will only have a problem once in their lives and they will not have that problem again, about a third will have a recurring problem which will subside and then come around again, and about a third will have a chronic problem. So, about two thirds of our clients make significant progress with their alcohol or drug problem.”

When asked what she would say to someone who may have a problem but hasn’t yet sought help, Dr. Armstrong replied, “I think the idea is it’s never too early or too late to seek help. We see people here and they’re maybe drinking half a bottle of wine a night and they maybe used to drink a couple of drinks at the weekend. If someone wants to make a change, they can make a change. I’d certainly encourage anyone who is concerned about their drinking to seek help and contact Addiction NI or another organisation.”

Recovering alcoholic John added, “It cannot be defeated by willpower alone. I strongly urge anyone who thinks they may have a problem, or know of someone who does, to talk about it with someone. It is the first step that seems the biggest but it is one that they won’t regret taking.”

Full Interview with Dr Claire Armstrong