UEFA teams attract a huge crowd to Ferrycarrig Park for qualifying round – New Ross Standard, September 10 2016

The stands in Ferrycarrig Park were jam packed last week as the UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifying round officially kicked off.

The league got in full swing on Tuesday as Wexford Youths faced BIIK-Kazygurt from Kazakhstan, ending in a 3-1 loss to the home team. Later in the week, they faced Lithuanian team Gintra, with a final score of 2-1 to the opposing team. The final match for Wexford Youths ended with a 0-0 result when they played against Moldovan team ARF Criuleni.

Matches involving some of the visiting teams also took place in Waterford Regional Sports Centre.

It was a historic occasion for Wexford Youths who hosted the teams from Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Moldova during their stay in the Southeast. This marked the first time that the league has ever been hosted in Ireland, making it a big step forward for women’s football in Wexford and Ireland as a whole.

FAI Wexford Development Officer William Doyle said that the event attracted plenty of attention which he hopes will boost interest in women’s football.

‘The stand for the first match was nearly full for the first time this season and that includes the men’s football,’ he said.

‘There was a great buzz around the grounds. A lot of young girls were there to watch the games and many of them were saying that the players were role models of theirs.’

According to William, the standard of play was fantastic throughout, while the visiting teams also showed a great deal of professionalism.

‘Even though the time difference between us and them is only about five hours, the Kazakhstan team arrived six days earlier to make sure that they weren’t jetlagged. That just shows the level of professionalism that they have,’ he added. ‘Unfortunately, they beat Wexford Youths 3-1 but it was a very good game.’

During a Civic Reception in County Hall on Monday, the qualifying teams and coaches were officially welcomed to the county by Chairman of Wexford County Council Paddy Kavanagh and representatives from the FAI and Wexford Youths FC. President of the FAI Tony Fitzgerald and Director of National Competitions Fran Gavin were also there to honour the occasion.

Chairperson Cllr Paddy Kavanagh welcomed all of the teams in their respective languages at the opening ceremony.

‘It is a privilege for Wexford County Council to offer our support to Wexford Youths FC, your hosts for this competition, and I thank the Club sincerely for allowing us to be part of this wonderful occasion. Wexford is extremely proud of our long and illustrious sporting tradition, a tradition which is important both socially and economically,’ he added.

The recently opened Talbot Suites at Stonebridge and the Talbot Hotel served as the official accommodation partner for the visitors. Over 150 players, management and officials were put up in the hotel and suites during the course of their stay.

‘The players have has only positive things to say about the Talbot,’ said William, who said that the success of such a partnership might lead to other international sporting events being held in Wexford in future.

Later in the week, the teams and coaches also took advantage of excursions to Hook Head, Loftus Hall and various other tourist attractions.

The announcement earlier this year that Wexford was to host the UEFA qualifiers received huge support across the town, particularly after plans to host it last year fell through due to a lack of suitable accommodations. Speaking with this newspaper in July, William Doyle said that the visit would provide opportunities for local businesses and local people.

‘It’s a huge opportunity for people to see European football,’ he said. ‘There is often a negative stigma surrounding women’s football and people don’t give it a chance. When people do come out and watch the teams play, people soon see that they are very good at football. In fact, it can often be more exciting [than men’s football] with more goals and more chances created.’

(First published in the New Ross Standard newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/uefa-teams-attract-a-huge-crowd-to-ferrycarrig-park-for-qualifying-round-35023364.html)

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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)

Angling boost for Wexford – Wexford People, September 3 2016

An estimated 240 competitors will hope to reel in some success this November when they flock to Wexford’s coastline for the 2016 World Shore Angling Championships.

Teams of anglers from countries across the globe will compete over a full week on beaches dotted along the Wexford coast. This year’s event, which is organised by the Irish Federation of Sea Anglers, will prove to be particularly significant as it is the first time that an Irish all-female team will take part.

Kilgorman, Ballinoulart, Morriscastle, Ballineskar, Curracloe, White Hole, Ballyhealy, Rostoontown, Rosslare Strand and Burrow have been earmarked as suitable beaches for the competition, along with Wicklow North beach and Woodstown in Waterford. Decisions on where competitors are to cast their lines will be determined according to tides on the day.

While competitors will arrive from faraway shores such as South Africa, Portugal and Spain, the Irish team will include some anglers from much closer to home. Killinick man Martin Howlin will serve as team captain while Courtown’s Joe Byrne is also one of the team members. On the women’s team, Jane Cantwell from Wexford town will fly the flag for her county.

Commenting on the upcoming championships, Martin Howlin said that Wexford were very lucky to get the opportunity to host it.

‘We had the bid against other parts of Ireland so it is great that we were awarded the opportunity to hold it in Wexford,’ said Martin, who will serve as team captain for the second time. ‘The beaches in Wexford are very suitable for hosting major championships as the beaches are very even so nobody has one real advantage against another.’

Martin and Joe also fished in the competition last year and helped the Irish team to take home a gold medal. Martin said that the Irish team should have a good chance of taking a medal this year.

Organised by the Irish Federation of Sea Anglers in association with Abbey Tours and hosted by the IFSA Leinster Branch, the championship will run for a full week from November 12 to 19, with many of the competitors and their families expected to arrive a week early to practice. This will be the second time that the Championships are to be held in Wexford, as the first one of its kind took place in the county.

Business Development Manager with Abbey Events Greg Carew said that their visit will provide a huge boost for the local economy.

‘We estimate that it will result in 3,000 bed nights for Wexford. Considering that it is midweek and mid-November, this will be fantastic for the town,’ he said. ‘We hope to make a good impression and hopefully, attract similar events here in the future.’

The event will kick off on Saturday November 12, with a parade of the nations through Wexford town and an opening ceremony at the National Opera House. This year, three new nations will take part: Poland, Cyprus and Turkey.

The parade will be followed by a dinner in Clayton White’s Hotel, where all of the participants will be based for the week. A training day will be held on Sunday before the lines are cast on Monday and the competition officially begins. Competitors will aim to land as many points as possible each evening during the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. as they fish for species such as dab, flounder, plaice, turbot, whiting, bass and cod, among others. They will be awarded points based on species, size and number of fish caught.

Along with assisting with the organisation of fishing event, Abbey Tours will also facilitate some local tours to sites of interest for visitors who wish to get a glimpse of the county.

In a written address to the competitors, President of the Irish Federation of Sea Anglers Pat Walsh said that the fishing in Wexford ‘is some of the best Europe can offer’.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/angling-boost-for-wexford-35006837.html)

Wexford woman was moments away from bomb blasts – Wexford People, March 29 2015

A Wexford woman living in Brussels was only moments away from the devastating bombings in Maalbeek metro station as she made her daily commute to work last Tuesday.

Sarah Cooke O’Dowd from Glenville Road, Wexford left her home on the outskirts of the city at 9 a.m. just before news of the terrorist attacks broke. However, in what could only be described as an incredible moment of luck, she was running late for work that day.

‘Yesterday morning I was trying to get in on time but because I had a meeting, I went back to change my shirt. Then some of my friends started messaging me asking was I okay so that held me up a bit,’ she explained.

Unaware of what was taking place further down along her metro line, Sarah walked to her station and headed to work in the city. After four stops, the train came to a halt and everyone was asked to evacuate.

‘They didn’t give us any explanation. My friends were on Whatsapp telling me that there had been explosions at the airport,’ she said. ‘When we left, the police were outside and told everyone to move on. In the beginning I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack or not. It was very confusing.’

‘I started walking to the next station and then one of my colleagues rang me. She was closer to where the bombing took place and was very stressed and very panicked. We both started crying. She just said, “Sarah go home”‘.

Sarah was relieved to find that everyone she knew was safe after the attacks.

‘They were telling us not to be using telephones but of course, everyone was on Facebook right away. I was glad to see that nobody I knew had been hurt.’

With the metro service brought to a halt following the attacks last week, Sarah was forced to work from home for several days. Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, she said she hadn’t left her house since the attacks.

‘I haven’t been into town since yesterday so I don’t know what the mood is like in there at the moment. But from what I could see from people yesterday, they were very shocked and surprised,’ she said. ‘There has been an outpouring of solidarity and unity since it happened. When people couldn’t leave their offices to go to lunch, people put their stuff together. I know in my work they were trying to figure out how to get people who lived far away home.’

‘Everyone wants to show that we will face it together.’

Although she doesn’t believe that the problems in Brussels are over, Sarah said that she hopes the authorities begin to ‘get their act together’.

‘The problem has been going on for a long time and was never tackled very well. The Belgium system is very complicated with different communes and areas so a lot of information probably fell through the cracks and it was easy for people to get away with things.’

As an employee with Equinet – European Network of Equality Bodies, Sarah works to counteract discrimination on a range of grounds, including religion and ethnicity. She feels that any racial hatred against Muslim people in the aftermath of these attacks is ‘very unfair’.

‘I think people who have a certain message to send about closing borders will use this [the attacks] as an excuse. Muslim people are very peaceful and wouldn’t hurt a fly. It certainly isn’t their fault and it’s very unfair to point the finger. They are being used as scapegoats,’ she said.

‘The people behind these attacks want to create fear. But to stop living life is giving in. Belgian’s are very fun-loving people and I don’t think they are going to give that up.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/wexford-woman-was-moments-away-from-bomb-blasts-34581962.html)

Sheer desperation of migrants, Wexford People, September 8 2015

Europe’s current refugee crisis has been dubbed the largest since WWII, with a record number of 107,500 asylum seekers crossing the EU’s borders in July.

According to the UNHCR, one in every 122 people in the world is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015, there was an 86 per cent increase in the amount of people claiming asylum in Europe.

Kosovars, Afghans and Syrians like the Kurdi family made up half of the asylum seekers.

According to Wexford man Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director for Amnesty International, we need to understand why these people are fleeing their home countries.

‘A lot of people use the term ‘migrant’ to describe these people. They aren’t migrants coming over here to find a better job or find a better life. They are people fleeing persecution and barbarity,’ he said.

David Williams, Manager of Media Relations with GOAL and another Wexford native, believes that people need to make the distinction, though he feels that recent media attention regarding the issue is increasing awareness.

‘People are beginning to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees,’ he said. ‘Some people come into a country looking to earn money and send it home, and that’s fine. Syrian refugees fall into a different category. It is important not to mix them up. People need to know that these refugees have no choice.’

The decision of these people to take perilous journeys with their families highlights the sense of desperation that pervades their communities.

’12 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria,’ said Mr. Williams. ‘They are living in old school buildings and mosques and some have no shelter at all.’

According to Mr. O’Gorman, these people should not have to resort to such dangerous means to find security.

‘Why were these people in the sea at all? If Europe provided safe and legal routes to people who are entitled under law to protection and asylum, we wouldn’t see the Mediterranean turning into a graveyard. It has been a graveyard for a number of years.’

Although he does feel that the EU have responded to the crisis, he does not believe that the correct measures have been taken.

‘The EU has reacted,’ he said. ‘The reaction has been to put up walls to prevent people from getting in here in the first place. I think their reaction has been disgraceful, a sham.’

Former Wexford-based MEP Avril Doyle also feels that no real progress has been made to solve the refugee crisis.

In 2001, the issue was tragically brought home to the local community, when the bodies of eight refugees were found in a container in Wexford Business Park. According to Ms. Doyle, there has been a ‘lack of progress in solving the problem causing the people to flee.’

‘There would appear to be a lack of resolve to sit down and talk,’ she said. ‘Only through talk will we resolve war.’

Despite these sentiments, Mr. O’Gorman believes that there is a need to acknowledge the positive work that has been done by Ireland in these countries, citing the efforts of the Irish Naval Service.

Operations carried out to date by LE Eithne and LE Niamh have involved the recovery of over 6,000 refugees and the rescue operation is set to continue as LE Samuel Beckett takes over from the LE Niamh at the end of September.

‘We at Amnesty have been providing humanitarian aid to these people for a number of years so that these people can stay in their neighbourhoods,’ said Mr. O’Gorman. ‘That’s what these people really want; they don’t want to flee.’

GOAL have also been running a programme in Syria since 2012, the biggest programme in GOAL history. Last week, they also launched a new campaign, titled ‘Now You Know’.

‘We are trying to let more people know about the conflict in Syria,’ said Mr. Williams. ‘We have put up a petition calling on EU leaders to do more in terms of the refugees and put pressure on leaders globally to solve the problem.’

Although Ireland has so far agreed to take in 600 refugees, this figure is expected to increase.

According to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, the number of refugees admitted by Ireland may treble following an emergency meeting of the European Commission next Monday, September 14.

Calls for the government to offer refuge to more than 600 people are widespread.

At the time of writing, over 28,000 signatures were on an online petition by Uplift calling on Taoiseach Enda Kenny “to commit to allowing thousands not hundreds of refugees seek refuge in Ireland”.

Despite strong support, there has been a small amount of public opposition, with some saying that we need to give priority to domestic issues.

Colm O’Gorman recognises that Irish problems such as the homelessness crisis must be acknowledged, but he feels that ‘the reality cannot be ignored.’

‘We can’t close our eyes and ears to what is going on,’ he said. ‘We understand emigration in face of crisis. We have a historic understanding of it.’

Avril Doyle is optimistic that Ireland will respond to the crisis but she believes that efforts need to be made immediately.

‘We have to start talking,’ she said. ‘It would be a push in the right direction. Otherwise we could be looking at it for years to come.’

The image of young Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach, struck a chord here in Wexford as elsewhere around the world, leaving many feeling helpless in the face of such a huge problem.

However, local efforts are being made which allow people in the Wexford community to lend their generosity.

One example is the efforts of Gary and Nicky O’Brian who are accepting donations at the People Support Centre on Mary’s Lane in Wexford town which will be delivered to refugees in Calais.

Accepted items include tents, clothes, toys and books, though food is not currently being taken in. According to Nicky, the campaign has already received a huge response.

‘It is unreal,’ she said. ‘We are already running out of space.’

She is urging anybody with donations to get in touch.

Among the other ways to get involved is Uplift’s “pledge a bed” campaign – a national campaign which has already seen 63 beds being offered in County Wexford.

(First published in the Wexford People: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/sheer-desperation-of-migrants-31516371.html)

The migrant crisis: we have been here before – Wexford People, September 8 2015

Stories of refugees embarking on perilous journeys in search of a better life echo those of an incident that shook the Wexford community and made international headlines in 2001.

In one of Wexford’s blackest days, the bodies of eight refugees, including three children, were found dead in a freight container in Drinagh Business Park, not far outside Wexford town.

With them were five survivors who were found unconscious and in a critical condition before being taken to Wexford General Hospital. Although thee five made a miraculous recovery following a 5-day journey in a sealed container, their family and friends had tragically died in circumstances almost too terrible for words.

The horrific discovery was made by a lorry driver who had collected the container from Belview Port in Waterford. The truck, which was carrying furniture from Milan, then travelled 60km east to Wexford Business Park in Drinagh where the driver heard noises coming from the container. It was then that he discovered what was later described by Garda Supt John Farrelly as ‘a nightmare of human misery’.

Details of the tragic incident soon emerged. Among the 13 stowaways found inside the truck was Karadede Guler, a cleaner from Turkey with his 28-year-old wife, Saniye, and their two children, Imam and Bekan. They had fled Turkey in late 2001, seeking a new life in western Europe. They sold everything they owned to pay traffickers who promised to take them where they wanted to go.

The Gular family had travelled from Turkey to Brussels, where they were joined by families from Algeria and Turkey chasing the same dream. There, Karadede Guler paid €15,000 to a 21-year-old Serbian man to transport his family to Britain in a sealed freight container with only four small openings for oxygen.

Mr. Gular, who was earning only €40 a month in his own country, had hoped to find a better home for his family.

His plans were cruelly shattered. His wife and two children did not survive the tortuous 100-hour journey. Hasan Kalendergil, his 12-year-old son, Kalender, and 10-year-old daughter, Zeliha were also amongst the dead, as were 26-year-old Yuksel Ucaroglu and 23-year-old Mustafa Demir.

As details unfolded of the plight of the 13 refugees, the nation stood to attention. In Masses throughout Wexford and beyond, people mourned the deaths of those who sought nothing more than a better life for themselves and their families. Amidst the sorrow came widespread public outrage, as everyone wondered how such a horrific incident could be allowed to happen. The feeling was unanimous: we can’t let this happen again.

An ounce of hope remained for the five survivors of the tragedy as the Irish community welcomed them in as their own. However, it clearly wasn’t the end of the nightmare for the many thousands of others seeking safety.

Ten years after the shocking incident in Drinagh, the problem of human trafficking through Rosslare remained. This was highlighted in April 2011, when three young Afghan men were found in a distressed and ill state following a four-day journey in the back of a truck.

The stowaways, who had boarded the truck in Italy, were unaware of their whereabouts. After being given food and water in Gorey Garda Station, they spent the night in New Ross Garda Station before being handed over to the Immigration Unit in Rosslare for repatriation to Cherbourg.

Commenting on the incident at the time, Wexford Garda Chief Superintendent John Roche said the Garda Immigration Unit at Rosslare Harbour were returning illegal immigrants on a regular basis. He said that, despite the best efforts of the Gardaí, the issue was ongoing.

Fastforward to 2015 where we are still witnessing atrocious incidents taking place on our doorstep.

The discovery of the bodies of 71 refugees in a truck in Austria several weeks ago was an incident hauntingly similar to the Wexford tragedy over a decade before.

Last week, images flashed on TV screens, social media and in newspapers across the world of lifeless three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shore of Kos brought the issue to a new emotional high, sparking a new wave of calls and demands for something to be done.

Avril Doyle, former MEP from Wexford, vividly recalls the events of 2001, which at the time, she said was ‘a tragedy waiting to happen, given our proximity to both the ports of Rosslare and Waterford’. Over a decade on, she feels that not enough has been done to ensure it won’t happen again.

‘We can never say it will never happen again. If you are desperate enough, you will take every risk to get to safety,’ she said.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/the-migrant-crisis-we-have-been-here-before-31516372.html)