Taking Centre Stage – Bray People, September 10 2016

In part one of this special report, Amy Lewis looks at Wicklow’s role in the film industry – who works in it, what it means for the garden County and what can be done to improve it.

Wicklow has served as the backdrop for hundreds of big-name films and TV series and the county has certainly reaped the rewards.

It is estimated that the film industry is worth €70m to the Wicklow economy. However, Wicklow Film Commissioner Vibeke Delahunt reckons that the reality is much higher.

‘Unfortunately there is a lack of data available. We have heard very conservatively that it could be worth about €70m every year but I think it is much more,’ she explained. ‘The industry has a huge ripple effect across the county and its services.’

Following the construction of Ardmore Studios in 1958, more international and homegrown producers began to flock to the county. Recognising the county’s potential in the world of film, Wicklow County Council looked to our neighbours in the states for ideas on to harness it and allow it to flourish. The result was the establishment of the Wicklow Film Commission in 1992 – the first of its kind in the country.

‘Because Wicklow was unique in Ireland with Ardmore, and now also with Ashford, it was felt by the county manager at the time that setting one up would be good for economic development and promoting Wicklow.’

The Wicklow Film Commission’s roles include promoting the county as a film location, liaising with filmmakers and providing them with various services and facilities.

‘We have had up years as well as down years such as in the 1990s and even after 2000. But in the last five or six years, production based here has gone up,’ said Vibeke, who added the opening of Ashford Studios and additional Film Factory at Ardmore means that production is going up all of the time.

Wicklow’s long showreel of films includes ‘Braveheart’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Excalibar’, ‘The Guard’, ‘Dancing at Lunasa’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, while TV shows ‘The Tudors’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘Ripper Street’, ‘Mooneboy’ and ‘Raw’ have also used Wicklow as their stage. There are a number of reasons why film and TV producers flock from across the globe to Ireland’s Garden County.

‘Rich tax incentives here have a lot to do with foreign productions filming here,’ she explained. ‘They also need to work out of a studio and we have the main two in the country here. Wicklow also has well-trained, experienced and talented crew, along with a wide range of locations that can double up for other places in Europe. All of these elements come together and that is recognised internationally.’

It’s a case of a lot done, a lot more to do. The Wicklow Film Commission is currently working at addressing any skills gaps by consulting with people in the industry. A recent introductory course to ‘hairdressing on a film set’ marked the beginning of this. It saw twelve trained hairdressers get to grips with working on a film set under the instruction of Vikings hairdresser Dee Corcoran.

Developing Wicklow County Campus at Clermount by expanding the number of film-related courses on offer is the next step in addressing these skills shortages.

‘We are looking at different sectors at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have been told by people in the industry that we need more trained people in props, model-making, prosthetics and electricians for example.’

‘There’s also a lot of work we could do for schools to incorporate film into the school curriculum.’

Another welcome move is the application for expansion at Ashford Studios.

‘We are very excited about Joe looking to expand and we support him in his work. It’s great to have a local man looking to develop infrastructure which we badly need. They are turning away work because they don’t have the space,’ she said.

‘There are a lot of interesting projects at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have ‘Into the Badlands’ and ‘I Killed Giants’ filming at the moment.’

(First published in the Bray People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/braypeople/news/taking-centre-stage-35026806.html)

Plans in motion to bring new retailers to town – Wexford People, August 13 2016

Plans to bring up to six new retailers to Wexford are in the pipeline, according to President of Wexford Chamber Karl Fitzpatrick.

Mr Fitzpatrick said that the Chamber are currently in talks with five or six retailers who have shown an interest in expanding into Wexford. Saying that he is unable to go into detail about who these retailers are at present, he clarified that they are ‘not the large box retailers’ such as Next, River Island and H and M.

‘Each of the retailers we are in discussions with has their own road map in terms of expanding. One of the retailers is planning on opening ten new stores in Ireland in the next two years. We could be year three,’ he continued. ‘I can’t say who it is, but I can say that the retailer sells a bit of everything that is currently on sale on the Main Street.

‘They are looking for a store of 40,000 square feet and we don’t have that at the moment. The ideal property either needs to become available, somebody needs to build it or we need to work with Wexford County Council with a view to getting planning guidelines reviewed.’

Mr Fitzpatrick said that the Chamber are aware that Wexford ‘can’t compete’ with cities when it comes to population or socioeconomic status. However, he said that they want to make Wexford the next best place for retailers to set up.

‘We want to make sure Wexford is number one for these retailers when they have finished developing in cities. Once they are looking at the next stage, we want to make sure that Wexford is at the top of their list.’

In order to do this, he said that the Chamber are working with local estate agents, who are ‘the direct line of communication’ with retailers looking to invest. They have also exhibited and met retailers at events such as the Retail Retreat in Kilkenny which is run by Retail Excellence Ireland. In addition, Mr Fitzpatrick said they send out their retail investor prospectus and an invitation to visit the town to any new or expanding businesses in Ireland.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/plans-in-motion-to-bring-new-retailers-to-town-34949345.html)

Frank is our new mayor – Wexford People, July 9 2016

From Wexford’s first rural mayor came Wexford’s first farming mayor as Cllr Ger Carthy handed over the rope and chains to new mayor Cllr Frank Staples last week.

‘I am deeply honoured to be elected mayor of this historic borough,’ Cllr Staples said in his acceptance speech following last week’s 5-4 vote at the Wexford Arts Centre. Cllr Tony Dempsey was elected as deputy mayor following a 5-4 vote.

The proud Mayglass-Ballymore man began his term of office by thanking his wife Trish, seven sons, friends, family and everyone who showed their support to him. He also thanked his aunts Eva (88) and Janie (90) for their support, along with his sister Mary who was unable to make it on the night.

Cllr Staples (58) outlined his main priorities for the coming year, of which he said mental health is a key focus.

‘We have a mental health crisis at the moment and the mental health services are struggling to deal with it. We need a dedicated 24/7 mental health facility to facilitate people in crisis.

‘We have a situation at the moment where people in desperate need of help are being turned away from hospitals because of lack of services.’

Cllr Staples said that from his own experience, he has learned that sometimes the little things can help.

‘Speaking from experience, sometimes it’s the little things that count.

‘So, don’t be afraid to ask, call or send someone a text if you know they are going through tough times, because you may be the person they open up to if you reach out to them.’

‘If you take nothing else from this evening but that you can make a positive impact on other people’s mental health, it will be worthwhile.’

Cllr Staples said his other priorities include job creation and advancing projects such as the development of Min Ryan People’s Park, Trinity Wharf Development and the Technological University for the South East. He also spoke about the Local Economic and Community Plan, which he said is ‘crucial’ for growth in the Southeast.

A tribute was also paid by Cllr Staples to his friend and colleague the late Cllr Fergie Kehoe.

‘A lot has been said about Fergie and I suppose if I was to pay him a compliment, it was hard not to be his friend, because once Fergie got to know you he would be your friend.’

Outgoing mayor Cllr Ger Carthy received unanimous praise from his colleagues for his year in office, with many paying reference to the more difficult tasks he has taken on over the past 12 months.

All of the councillors paid their best wishes to the new mayor, including Cllr George Lawlor, who joked that he was Wexford’s first farming mayor.

Following the election of deputy mayor Tony Dempsey, Cllr Staples said that he was delighted to have him on board.

‘I look forward to working for Wexford Borough and District with you in 2016 and 2017.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/frank-is-our-new-mayor-34870319.html)

Arts officer seat remains vacant – Wexford People, June 23 2016

The seat for an Arts Officer in Wexford has been vacant since July 2015, despite an advertisement for the position last July and again in March 2016.

Following the departure of Arts Officer Rosaleen Molloy in June 2010, Sinead Barden was chosen as a replacement as the result of a competition. However, due to an employment embargo in public sector recruitment, this position was only temporary.

The post became vacant again in July 2015 and a call for applications was put out soon after. When no candidate was found, the position was readvertised on March 29 2016 but the position still remains unfilled.

Cllr Malcolm Byrne drew attention to the vacancy at the recent Wexford County Council meeting and later, highlighted the need to have it resolved as soon as possible.

‘It is a matter of emergency that we need an Arts Officer so that he or she can begin to develop a strategic arts development plan for the county,’ he said.

‘Wexford has always had the lead on the arts and it provides huge social and economic opportunities in the county. Given that we are bidding for the position to host the European Capital of Culture, it would be very unfortunate for one of the Three Sisters not to have an Arts Officer in place,’ he said.

Since July 2015, staff at the arts office have taken on some of the tasks that are usually carried out by the Arts Officer. Cllr Byrne commended them for their work.

‘I have to compliment the arts office staff who have been putting in trojan work over the last period. They haven’t let the side down.’

Cllr Byrne said that he understands that interviews will take place within the next fortnight and expects an announcement on a new officer to be made within the next four weeks.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/arts-officer-seat-remains-vacant-34824182.html)

‘We need a new community garda… and fast!’ – Wicklow People, May 7 2016

The failure to appoint a new community Garda in east Wicklow since January is having a ‘significant impact’ on the local area according to Cllr John Snell.

Community Garda for Wicklow town, Rathnew and environs Marco de Luca was relocated to Garda Headquarters in January and the position has yet to be filled. Cllr Snell said that his departure has left a ‘huge void’ in the area.

‘The impact is significant, particularly on the ground. There is no link between the young people and An Garda Siochana,’ he said. ‘My main gripe is that people are saying crime doesn’t pay but unfortunately, this is not ringing true. People are seeing those involved in crime and drugs and the profits that are to be made. We need people on the ground highlighting the fact that we don’t want people getting involved with drugs and antisocial behaviour.’

Cllr Snell went on to say that interaction between the Gardai and the local community has proven to be very beneficial to all in the past.

‘People will wonder what difference one person makes. But even the sheer fact of having somebody who is going in to speak to local kids has a huge benefit for everyone,’ he said. ‘The only time when young people will see the Gardai now is when they come across them in a Garda car and in my opinion, it’s too late then.’

According to Cllr Snell, the drugs problem in the east Wicklow area is a worsening issue and he feels that interaction between the guards and the community is vital in order to tackle it.

‘I can say without fear of contradiction that the drug problem is escalating and getting to a point that there is a certain acceptance. That level of acceptance is unacceptable when you have people thinking it is ok to be in possession of drugs,’ he said. ‘Anybody who knows anything realises that it is a huge issue in the area and it is getting worse.’

Cllr Snell said that he has been in touch with local community groups asking them to write letters calling for the urgent appointment of a new community Garda.

When contacted about the empty position, Superintendent Paul Hogan said that the position was to be filled ‘at some stage’ but ‘not in the immediate future’ due to a lack of personnel.

‘We are very aware of the situation,’ he said. ‘We also have to go through an interview process so that would delay the process a bit.’

Supt Hogan said that interviews for the position had not yet commenced. When asked whether the lack of community Garda was having an effect on their work, he said: ‘We don’t have the capacity to do all of the things that we would like to do. We have other gardai filling in for the school visits.’

‘We are not running the transition year programmes at the moment. Front line policing has to take priority.’

Supt Hogan said that they try to meet all of their commitments in the area. He said that the main things affected by the lack of a community garda are crime prevention exercises.

‘We do have other members filling in but nobody has the full-time position,’ he said.

(First published in the Wicklow People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/wicklowpeople/news/we-need-a-new-community-garda-and-fast-34682840.html)

A Wexford man with a happy future in his sights – Wexford People, July 7 2015

Vincent Mulligan is a man who has overcome all of his obstacles, regardless of what has been thrown at him.

At only 26, when he lost his sight due to diabetes, the Wexford resident witnessed his whole life being taken away overnight.

‘I woke up one day and couldn’t see very clearly,’ explained Vincent, who is originally from Kilmuckridge. ‘I panicked and went to the hospital where they told me that I had diabetic retinopathy.’

In the following months, Vincent received laser treatment and an operation on his right eye, both of which were unsuccessful. As a result, he found himself completely blind on one side.

‘The doctors then concentrated on my left eye and stabilised it with laser treatment,’ he said. ‘I am registered blind in that eye too but I can see light and can read or watch television if I readjust myself.’

It was not only sight loss that Vincent had to learn to cope with. As a qualified electrician, Vincent was forced to come to terms with the fact that he would no longer be able to continue in his profession. In the beginning, he found this difficult to accept.

‘I was feeling sorry for myself for months,’ explained Vincent.

This wasn’t the first period of hardship in Vincent’s life. Only a year previously, he fell from scaffolding while working abroad, an accident which left him in a coma.

‘When I woke up to find the tubes in my throat, I panicked and pulled on them,’ he said. ‘This caused a leak in my throat but I didn’t know this so I went back to work.’

One week later, Vincent was wiring tunnels in Paris when he began experienced breathing difficulties.

‘I jumped into the car and drove myself to hospital, which probably wasn’t the best thing to do,’ he laughed. ‘I had to get a throat operation which went well but the whole event had affected my body. I couldn’t speak for a while and had to learn how to walk again.’

This physical trauma coupled with Vincent’s diabetes eventually led to his sight loss. For the young man, this was the final straw.

‘The sight loss affected me in ways that I thought were life-ending,’ he said.

Thankfully, a family member introduced Vincent to the National Council for the Blind (NCBI). He was put in touch with support worker Michael Benson and for the first time in several years, began to feel hopeful about his future.

‘They encouraged me to do a computer course and this completely opened up my world,’ said Vincent. ‘I realised that, although I may not be able to do practical work anymore, I am capable of other things. So I turned my attention to learning.’

Vincent didn’t enjoy school as a child and left at the age of 16 to do an apprenticeship. However, through working with Michael, he was persuaded to give studying another go.

‘Michael told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to do what he did – to empower people and encourage those in unfortunate situations,’ he smiled.

The pair researched numerous colleges until they came across a course in Applied Social Studies in IT Carlow’s Wexford campus.

‘They took me in straight away which is an important thing to highlight,’ said Vincent. ‘People with disabilities can get into college and be supported while they are there.’

Vincent’s four years in college were anything but easy. His vision impairment made college life incredibly difficult, especially when it came to reading books and completing assignments. Yet, aided by some special equipment and Aidan Barry from the NCBI, he managed to secure a 2:1 degree.

‘They were the most difficult years of my life, but definitely the most rewarding,’ he said. ‘I suppose when you are interested in something, you will do well.’

Following college, Vincent had another challenge to face: finding a job. For him, the key thing was to be optimistic.

‘I tend to be quite positive and do well in interviews anyway. Though, I am fortunate as I am on the right side of vision,’ he said. ‘I see so many others with bad vision impairments who have more talent and ability than me yet, are unable to find work.’

As a man who has experienced sight loss first-hand, Vincent believes it is important for employers to recognise the special skills that the visually-impaired have.

‘I can pick up on hints to tell how a person is feeling, but I couldn’t do that before. I was a typical man!’ he laughed.

Vincent now uses these skills to help others. At present, he works in a residential unit for men with autism, a role that he finds ‘really rewarding.’

‘My job requires me to educate, support and look after their needs in society,’ he explained. ‘I give people hope and show them that their situation can improve.’

Vincent’s own unfortunate experiences have given him this newfound positivity which he enjoys passing on to others.

‘It has made me appreciate the little things in life,’ he said. ‘I used to work hard so that I could get things for myself. That doesn’t really matter. What’s important is having people that you can depend on.’

Soon, Vincent will be welcoming a new addition to his life who will be dependent on him. In October, Vincent and his wife Labhaoise will welcome their first child into the world. The due date is October 1, which also happens to be Vincent’s birthday. According to the father-to-be, the couple are nervous, yet excited.

‘I suppose we’re like every couple though,’ he smiled. ‘It’s going to be the best birthday present ever!’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/a-wexford-man-with-a-happy-future-in-his-sights-31360318.html)