News in Brief

By Frank Shouldice, Contributor
April / May 2006

Almost seven million people visited Ireland last year according to latest figures released by Tourism Ireland. Showing an increase of six percent on 2004, the annual report revealed a slight drop in the number of visitors from the U.S. (to 950,800). “This performance was underpinned by an excellent performance from Europe and a positive performance by the British market,” said Paul O’Toole, chief executive at the tourist agency. He acknowledged that “the going was tough last year” for some sectors in the tourist industry, but the highly touted arrival of the Ryder Cup in Co. Kildare has raised prospects for 2006 . . .

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Mountain walkers reacted enthusiastically to the opening of a fabulous new walking track on Diamond Hill in Connemara, Co. Galway. Erosion of the mountainside had closed the area for three years, but a 2.6-mile purpose-built track, the longest in Ireland, was laid so that the route could be declared safe.

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Diamond Hill rises to 500 metres and lies between Letterfrack and Clifden in Connemara National Park. The area, which offers wonderful views of the Atlantic coastline, attracts about 80,000 people each year . . .

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Minister for the Marine Noel Dempsey is yet to decide on whether to allow Shell E&P Ireland to proceed with the next stage of gas exploration off the Mayo coast. Local people have campaigned vociferously against Shell’s plans for an inland gas refinery, claiming that a high-pressure pipeline running from the Corrib gas field offshore would pose a serious safety threat to the locality. Five men, known as the Rossport Five, spent 94 days in jail in connection with the protest, and the controversial project is now awaiting the Minister’s response to a safety review . . .

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Fruit of the Loom will close its manufacturing plant in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. The clothing plant, which once employed almost 3,000 people, will shift operations to a lower-cost base in Morocco. “This is a very dark day for the Inishowen peninsula,” warned trade unionist Sean Reilly, citing the Donegal region as an “unemployment blackspot.” “Replacement jobs have not been secured for the thousands that have been lost,” he added . . .

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Stout drinkers in Ireland were surprised to hear that Guinness will soon launch a lighter version of the famous pint. Diageo Ireland, the parent company which owns Guinness, announced a new brew which will taste similar to the original despite lowering the alcohol content from 4.2 percent to 2.8 percent. The company’s marketing department said the new brew would enable drinkers to enjoy their preferred tipple and reduce their alcohol intake, an innovation particularly appealing to motorists. The 247-year-old brand reported a sales drop of nine percent in the Irish market through the second half of 2005. Diageo will test the new product in Limerick through March, although a disastrous 1979 campaign with the long-forgotten Guinness Light will limit expectations . . .

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Ireland is failing to meet targets set by the Kyoto Protocol. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the high-output cement industry as the main culprit for a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Other factors relate to steady increases in population, housing stock and road traffic. “The figures highlight the challenges facing Ireland in seeking to comply with its Kyoto commitments in a growing economy,” said EPA director general Dr. Mary Kelly. ♦

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