Category Archives: Damage

Business as usual is not an option: Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery

Discussion paper presented by Niall O’Reilly at 6th International ‘Life & Development Forum’ – “We Make Life Better – Hangzhou, White Horse Lake Jianguo Hotel , November 8-9, 2013.

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Well-being

Well-being

Sustainable development is a continuous, guided process of economic, environmental and social change aimed at promoting the well-being of citizens now and in the future. To realise this requires creating a sustainable and resource efficient economy founded on a fair and just society, which respects the ecological limits and carrying capacity of the natural environment (Source: Wikipedia)

In 2013, the economic situation in Ireland is dramatically different to the earlier part of the last decade, when Ireland was known as The Celtic Tiger. Measured against the standard indicators of GDP, and GNP – trends for economic development, new housing output, tax revenues, and employment levels have dropped sharply.

We have also seen rising unemployment, a banking crisis and a collapse in the property market after a sustained, if unsustainable, boom in the property market.  A number of factors drove these unsustainable trends, including: rapid growth in employment, large scale inward migration (annual immigration rose sharply from 52,600 persons in 2000 to peak at 109,500 in 2007) (2), rapid natural population growth (17% increase between 1996 and 2006), fiscal incentives for the construction sector, rising car ownership and weakness in the strategic approach to spatial planning.

At a time of rapidly rising prosperity and development, the existing structures and controls were not strong enough to withstand the pressures that unavoidably arose.

This legacy leaves Ireland facing huge challenges in the period ahead, challenges that are all the more serious when set against the backdrop of a global economic downturn.

The sustainability pressures on the economy continue to be high and while some progress has been made, there is still a distance to travel before Ireland can fully remove itself from what is the most serious fiscal and economic crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland.

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In meeting the challenge, the Irish Government is implementing a radical Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland – a national recovery agenda, which seeks to integrate sustainable development principles into policy making across all sectors, for the purpose of stimulating:

  • the transformation of public services
  • economic growth based on knowledge and innovation
  • an inclusive, high employment society
  • a greener low carbon economy
  • and a good quality natural and built-environment so that Ireland can once again prosper on a competitive global stage.

Lessons must be learnt from Ireland’s recent experience and Ireland will have to ensure structures and systems are put in place that are strong enough to survive periods of pressure which might threaten to weaken sustainable growth and fiscal stability.

It is widely accepted that economic growth, social unity and environmental protection are equally important targets for meeting the prime objective of delivering well-being in a diverse multi-cultured society that promotes participation, a society in which everyone takes responsibility for the environment.

While the establishment of a more sustainable pattern of development for Ireland is one of the key challenges of government and ultimately for society, there is also a clear consensus that a return to ‘business as usual’ is not an option.

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At a global level there is a growing consensus that the world’s systems of production and consumption cannot be sustained without posing a huge threat to the environment and to human health. Water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, resource depletion and irreversible biodiversity loss are problems that have to be tackled as a matter of priority.

Consensus is now focusing around the need to put economies on a more sustainable, green growth path on the basis that the cost of sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services is lower than the cost of allowing biodiversity and ecosystem services to decline.

For Ireland ‘green growth’ and the ‘green economy’ are now fundamental aspects of Government policy as the country shifts away from the ‘brown economy’ on the road to becoming a low-carbon, competitive, resource efficient and climate resilient country, policy which will ultimately improve its citizens’ well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

Economic, environmental and social progress are mutually related.

Business as usual is not an option - Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery

Blue sky living

Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development

This Framework contains measures to help meet the overall goal of achieving continuous improvement of quality of life both for current and for future generations.

The following set of 7 principles for sustainable development are the central aspects of this Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland:

  1. In relation to “economy”, the principle seeks “to promote an innovative, competitive and low carbon economy with the aim of achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” and to reduce pressure on natural resources
  2. In relation to “satisfaction of human needs by the efficient use of resourcesthe key objectives are that:

(a) “Prices should reflect the real costs to society of production and consumption activities and polluters should pay for the damage they cause to human health and the environment

(b) “The needs of current generations should be addressed without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”

(c) “Resources should be used within the capacity for regeneration

3. In relation to “respect for ecological integrity and biodiversity” the Framework seeks to ensure that “the abundance of wildlife and extent of habitats should be maintained, improved and restored where necessary, through sustainable management

4. In relation to social equity the main principle is that “social inclusion should be promoted to ensure an improved quality of life for all”

5. In relation to “respect for cultural heritage and diversity” the Framework will ensure that “the quality of landscapes, the heritage of the man-made environment and historic and cultural resources should be maintained and improved.

6. In relation to “Equity between countries and regions” Ireland will:

(a) “promote fundamental rights, by combating all forms of discrimination and contributing to the reduction of poverty”

(b) “promote consistency between local, regional, national, European Union (EU) and global actions in order to increase their contribution to sustainable development”

7. The 7th and final theme of Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development relates to good “decision-making”. In this regard, the framework will aim to:

(a) Guarantee citizens’ rights of access to information and public participation procedures.

(b) Ensure citizens’ access to review mechanisms.

(c) Develop adequate consultation with all interested parties, including citizens, businesses and social partners (such as trade unions), and develop participatory channels for all such interested parties.

Of course there are challenges.

Ireland’s Sustainable Development Framework catagorises 12 the key challenges under the following themes:

  1. Sustainability of public finances and economic resilience.
  2. Sustainable consumption and production.
  3. Conservation and management of natural resources.
  4. Climate change and clean energy.
  5. Sustainable agriculture.
  6. Sustainable transport.
  7. Social inclusion, sustainable communities and spatial planning.
  8. Public health.
  9. Education, communication and behaviour change.
  10. Innovation, research and development
  11. Skills and training
  12. The 12th challenge is how to address global poverty and sustainable development.

I will now briefly explain Government-led initiatives regarding two of these themes: sustainable transport and public health

Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future

Transport, which is a key element of a sustainable development strategy, should be closely aligned to land use planning and the need to create more sustainable communities.

Sustainable transport is central to Ireland’s efforts to combat climate change, air pollution and other negative environmental and social impacts.

Transport trends in Ireland from the mid 1990’s onwards are unsustainable. The main problems associated with transport in Ireland are:

  • Rising pollution – greenhouse gases and particular air pollutants which are detrimental to health and the environment such as nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Increasing congestion on roads that lengthens journey times, adversely impacts on family, leisure time, and community life, contributes to the growing problem of obesity, and adds to pollution and costs at many levels including affecting Ireland’s national competitiveness. In Ireland there is a clear appetite to abandon the car for commuter driver, if only this were practical.
  • Safety also remains a key issue despite the steadily decreasing numbers of road deaths.
  • In addition, a key characteristic that distinguishes energy use in transport in Ireland is the almost total dependence on oil as a fuel and on import dependency, over 99% in both cases.

Without intervention, congestion will get worse, economic competitiveness will suffer, quality of life will deteriorate and carbon emissions from the transport sector will grow.

In order to achieve a sustainable travel and transport system by 2020, Ireland needs to change its unsustainable behaviour and habits as a nation and as individuals.

Sustainable and smarter transport measures currently being implemented by the Government under the Framework for Sustainable Development are set out in four key goals:

Goal 1 – to “reduce overall travel demand and the distance traveled by private car” and encourage smarter travel, including

  • focusing population and employment growth in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel for employment and services
  • using pricing mechanisms or fiscal measures to encourage behaviour change and discourage people from using the car unnecessarily.

Goal 2 – to “maximise the efficiency of the transport network” by ensuring that alternatives to the car are more widely available mainly through a radically improved public transport service and investment in cycling and walking.

Goal 3 – to reduce reliance on foss1il fuels and emissions by improving the fuel efficiency of motorised transport through

  • improved fleet structure
  • energy efficient driving
  • alternative driving.

Goal 4 – to improve accessibility to transport.

To achieve these goals the Government is pursuing a number of key targets such as:

  • Dramatically improving the placement of spatial and transport planning to stop urban sprawl, and urban-generated one-off housing in non-urban areas
  • Encouraging e-working through better broadband provision
  • 500,000 more people will take alternative means to commute to work (200,000 people will switch to cycling and walking) to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%
  • Alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport will be supported and provided to the extent that these will rise to 55% of total commuter journeys to work
  • The total kilometres travelled by the car fleet in 2020 will not increase significantly from current levels
  • A reduction will be achieved on the 2005 figure for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport

These key targets are ambitious. However, they are necessary to improve the quality of life of Ireland’s citizens, to secure future energy supply, and to ensure that the transport sector substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the need for all developed nations to do so. These targets represent a complete turnaround in the current trends. They mean that the Irish public must radically alter how they travel, and that Government priorities in the transport sector must move towards more sustainable modes.

Smarter Travel and Sustainable Transport Ideas:

  • Specification of a maximum permitted level of car parking for Government offices and commercial sites, which have suitable public transport facilities and are within walking/ cycling distance to amenities
  • The adoption of flexible working policies. The Government has provided leadership in promoting such flexible policies in the public sector
  • Ensuring that every school and college in Ireland has a school travel plan to encourage students to take alternatives to the car.
  • Government commitment to a culture of walking in Ireland
  • A car-sharing website which will help employers to encourage such initiatives in the workforce.
  • One smart-card to pay for all forms of public transport
  • Conversion of taxi and public bus fleet to alternative fuels. 
Natural resources

Natural resources

A Healthy Ireland

Public health protection is an essential goal for society in delivering well-being and quality of life. Ireland has made significant progress in regard to the health of its population, but some key challenges remain.

The rise in life expectancy in Ireland during the past decade has been unmatched by any other country in Europe with the greatest gains in the older age groups reflecting decreasing mortality rates from major diseases.

In fact, the most important statistic from a health perspective is the number of people over the age of 65 which is projected to increase from over 500,000 now to over 1,300,000 in the next 30 years with the greatest proportional increases occurring in the 85+ age group.

However, Ireland’s ageing population, together with negative trends in obesity (60% of adults are obese), diet, exercise and other risk factors – such as smoking [6,000 deaths a year), and alcohol abuse (related road accidents cost over Euro 600 million a year) means that the level of chronic health conditions will certainly increase.

In addition, there are a range of social determinants of health, for example social exclusion, education, health services, the built environment and lifestyle choices:

People who are less well off or who belong to socially excluded groups tend to fare badly in relation to these social determinants

A healthy environment is also absolutely linked to the health of Ireland’s population which relies for survival on clean air and water and the crops we are able to grow in uncontaminated soil. Public amenities such as forest parks provide opportunities for recreation and add to our understanding of the environment thus supporting healthier lifestyles while contributing to our well-being.

The Irish Government’s Healthy Ireland framework is about taking important steps towards making Ireland a healthier and more prosperous country in which the whole population enjoys the best possible health and well-being.

It is designed to include Government Departments, local authorities and public bodies, businesses and employers, sports and voluntary groups, communities and families.

Initiatives within the Healthy Ireland Framework have four goals:

Goal 1: Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life:

This means addressing risk factors and promoting protective factors at every stage of life – from pre-natal, through early childhood, adolescence, adulthood and into old age, to support lifelong health and well-being.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing the number of adults (by 5%) and children (6%) with a healthy weight by 2019
  • Increasing by 20% the proportion of adults eating the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day
  • Reducing smoking among young people by 1% a year
  • Decreasing levels of self-harm across all life stages
  • Increasing by 20% of proportion of the population undertaking regular physical activity

Goal 2: Reduce health inequalities:

Health and well-being are not evenly distributed across Irish society. This goal requires not only interventions to target particular health risks, but also a broad focus on addressing the wider social determinants of health – the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – to create economic, social, cultural and physical environments that foster healthy living.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing the ‘stay at school’ rates of students in second-level schools
  • Reducing the % of the population in consistent poverty from current 6% to 2% or less by 2020.
  • Increasing self-reported happiness and well-being across socio-economic groups.

Goal 3: Protect the public from threats to health and well-being:

The Healthy Ireland Framework is designed to ensure effective strategies and interventions to protect the public from new and emerging threats to health and well-being are implemented. Being prepared to prevent, respond to, and rapidly recover from public health threats through collaborative working is critical for protecting and securing the population’s health.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing immunization rates for children to 95% uptake
  • Reducing prevalence of food-borne infections in compliance with Ireland and EU legislation
  • Complying with indicators defined in International Health Regulations, World Health Organisation (WHO).

Goal 4: Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their  part in achieving a Healthy Ireland:

It is beyond the capability of any one Government Department or organisation to promote society-wide health and well-being. This can only be done through society-wide involvement in and engagement with health and well-being promotion and improvement activities – from individuals making positive lifestyle choices and projects run by community and local groups, to policy and legislative changes at the highest level of government.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Establishing key indicators measuring the level, range and effectiveness of cross government collaboration and effectiveness of structures.
  • Increasing percentage of people participating in informal, unpaid charitable work.

The current health status of people living in Ireland, lifestyle trends and inequalities in health outcomes are leading Ireland toward a future that is dangerously unhealthy and very likely unaffordable. The work that is underway to build a health service that is accessible and fair will only succeed if Ireland builds an environment that supports people and their families to lead healthier lifestyles.

Evidence and experience from around the world clearly shows that to create positive and sustainable change in health and well-being, it takes the involvement of the whole community, the whole of Government, all of society working in unison.

In conclusion, having endured the worst crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland, by placing Sustainable Development as a critical component in Ireland’s Agenda for National Recovery the Government is clearly focused on pursuing coherent policies and sustainable actions for the health and well-being of the country’s most valuable asset: Its people.

Given Ireland’s present economic condition investment in the necessary infrastructure elements of the Framework for Sustainable Development will be challenging. However, the real challenge is to change mindsets, so that Ireland’s institutions and individual citizens realise the benefits from altering their behaviour for the common good.

END.

Business as usual is not an option - Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery

Bio-diversity

Niall O’Reilly

Managing Director, Accurate Group Ireland China Market Makers (Route to Market, Export, Import, Partner Due Diligence)

Website: http://www.accuratelimited.com

Twitter: @AccurateChina

China Office : Accurate Group China, Hangzhou – O: +86 571 8709 1253

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Filed under Accurate China Insight, Corruption, Damage, Economy, European Union (EU), Hangzhou, Health, Innovation, Niall O'Reilly, Politics, Poverty, Road Safety, Travel

China – Under The Hood: Tinder box – China’s long hot summer

It’s the height of summer here in Hangzhou and it’s extremely hot…. Like sizzling! However, the degree of how hot varies between what is official and what the common man and woman on the street knows and feels.

Official hot (government offices, factories, etc are mandated to close if the official temperature hits 40 degrees Celsius) versus unofficial hot: Mary, who runs the GoMax tea and fruit drink outlet near my apartment, insists her thermometer showed an outside temperature reading of 42 degrees Celsius, but officially it was still 37 degrees Celsius.

People like Mary are increasingly aware of the alternative perspective: The truth uniquely experienced and the massive amount of shared beliefs gleaned from micro-blogging websites such as Sina Weibo.   Worn out by the never-ending official pronouncements, a tinder box situation of growing antipathy towards the way Official China is being run and directed is palpable.

Today, China’s rising prices, ever increasing income disparities, a mode of governance that pursues rapid economic growth and infrastructue development above all else, unrelenting corruption scandals, and a lack of transparency and accountability are testing this populace like never before.

And the spark?

Translation: “The Derailed Country

You ask, why are they acting like a bunch of lunatics?

They think they’re the picture of restraint.

You ask, why can’t they tell black from white, fact from fiction?

They think they’re straight shooters, telling it like it is.

You ask, why are they running interference for murders?

They think they’ve thrown their friends under the bus. And they’re ashamed.

You ask, why all the cover-ups?

They think they’re letting it all hang out.

You ask, why are they so irretrievably corrupt?

They think they’re hardworking and plain-living.

You ask, why are they so infuriatingly arrogant?

They think they’re the picture of humility.

You feel like you’re the victim. So do they.

They think: “During the Qing Dynasty, no one had television. Now everyone has a television. Progress!”

They think: “We’re building you all this stuff, what do you care what happens in the process? Why should you care who it’s really for, so long as you get to use it? The train from Shanghai to Beijing used to take a whole day. Now you’re there in five hours (as long as there’s no lightning). Why aren’t you grateful? What’s with all the questions?

“Every now and then, there’s an accident. The top leaders all show how worried they are. We make someone available to answer journalists’ questions. First we say we’ll give the victims 170,000 kuai apiece. Then we say we’ll give them 500,000. We fire a buddy of ours. We’ve done all that, and you still want to nitpick? How could you all be so close-minded? You’re not thinking of the big picture! Why do you want us to apologize when we haven’t done anything wrong? It’s the price of development.

“Taking care of the bodies quickly is just the way we do things. The earlier we start signing things, the more we’ll have to pay out in the end. The later we sign, the smaller the damages. Our pals in the other departments—the ones who knock down all the houses—taught us that one. Burying the train car was a bonehead move, true, but the folks upstairs told us to do it. That’s how they think: if there’s something that could give you trouble, just bury it. Anyway, the real mistake was trying to dig such a huge hole in broad daylight. And not talking it over with the Propaganda Department beforehand. And not getting a handle on all the photographers at the site. We were busy, ok? If there’s anything we’ve learned from all this, it’s that when you need to bury something, make sure you think about how big it is, and make sure you keep the whole thing quiet. We underestimated all that.”

They think that, on the whole, it was a textbook rescue operation—well planned, promptly executed, and well managed. It’s a shame public opinion’s gotten a little out of hand, but they think, “That part’s not our responsibility. We don’t do public opinion.”

They’re thinking: “Look at the big picture: We had the Olympics, we canceled the agricultural tax, and you guys still won’t cut us a break. You’re always glomming on to these piddling little details. No can-do spirit. We could be more authoritarian than North Korea. We could make this place poorer than the Sudan. We could be more evil than the Khmer Rouge. Our army’s bigger than any of theirs, but we don’t do any of that. And not only are you not thankful, but you want us to apologize! As if we’ve done something wrong?”

Society has people of means, and those without. There’s people with power, and those that have none. And they all think they’re the victim. In a country where everyone’s the victim, where the classes have started to decouple from one another, where it’s every man for himself, in this huge country whose constituent parts slide forward on inertia alone—in this country, if there’s no further reform, even tiny decouplings make the derailings hard to put right.

The country’s not moving forward because a lot of them judge themselves as if Stalin and Mao were still alive. So they’ll always feel like the victim. They’ll always feel like they’re the enlightened ones, the impartial ones, the merciful ones, the humble ones, the put-upon ones. They think the technological drumbeat of historical progress is a dream of their own making.
The more you criticize him, the more he longs for autocracy. The more you gaomao him (piss him off), the more he misses Mao.

A friend in the state apparatus told me, “You’re all too greedy. Forty years ago, writers like you would’ve been shot. So you tell me, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

I said, “No, you’re all too greedy. Ninety years ago, that kind of thinking would have gotten you laughed out of the room. So you tell me: after all that, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

Source:

Attributed to China blogger Han Han and posted on Sina Weibo 27th July 2011 (it was subsequently deleted). 23 July 2011, two high-speed CRH ‘Harmony’ trains collided on a viaduct in the suburbs of Wenzhou, in southern Zhejiang province killing at least 40 people. Inept officials reacted to the accident by hurriedly finishing rescue operations and ordering the burial of the derailed cars. Result: Uproar.

http://chinageeks.org/2011/07/han-han-the-derailed-country/

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Filed under Accidents, China, China Under The Hood, Corruption, Damage, Economy, Hangzhou, Indifference, Poetry, Scandal, Security, Thought control, writing

China – Under The Hood: The Curious Incident Of The Dissolving Peach

No, I’m not being self-absorbed, and it’s not as if loads of locals around me are succumbing to nasty, mysterious illnesses (anyway the local tabloids always tone down the numbers). Nevertheless, of late in conversations with Hangzhouers I’ve noticed three questions coming up again and again in a tone verging on alarm.

-What are we eating?

-What are we drinking?

-and…. What the hell are we breathing?

-and I’ll toss in another issue…. How can one of the two peaches I bought in the local fruit shop last Sunday turn from unripe into a liquefied mush within 36 hours of purchase? That toxic peach dissolved right before my eyes!

[Anecdote:  A couple of weeks ago having enjoyed a second Kelloggs Nutri-Grain bar (courtesy of a Red-Cross parcel from my mother back home in Ireland, also filled with a critical supply of Barry’s Tea bags) I found myself checking out the nutritional label on the back of the wrapper. Clueless as to what I was reading, it suddenly dawned on me what I was reading wasn’t anything about food.  Why did I just eat a load of preservatives which are of zero benefit to my body? Why indeed..]

If you want to participate in a live laboratory in which the food – [and air-we-breath] – chain(s) are “unintentionally” (yeah right! the expressions of innocence on the faces of those perpetrators regularly showcased to the media are as fake as the vile products they have been caught tainting) exposed to poisonous industrial chemicals with the potential to totally wreck our bodily processes, then all roads lead to China.

I’d never even heard of most of these chemicals by name. Sure I can hardly pronounce them:

  • Watermelons overdosing (exploding melons of mass destruction) on forchlorfenuron growth hormones (May 2011)

  • Sports and fruit drinks laced with “particularly damaging to a young male’s fertility” dioctyl phthalate (imported from Taiwan, June 2011)
  • The “high blood pressure” yielding heavy metal cadmium in rice (February 2011); toxic “kidney failure” conducive melamine in milk (ongoing?)
  • Arsenic in soy sauce (ongoing?)
  • Copper in coffee (imported from Japan, 2008)
  • Bleach in mushrooms (December 2010)
  • The detergent borax in pork (added to make it resemble beef, April 2011)
  • and a whole host of fruit and vegetables smeared in deltamethrin, a synthetic insecticide, and preservatives with extremely long names!

Sure it only seems like yesterday when my buddy Umberto, who being Italian takes his cooking very seriously, watched a pot of fresh tomatoes turn white in a boiling confusion of red artificial colouring (2006).

Here in Hangzhou, affectionately known as “The Pond”, on account of its scenic West Lake,  so far (and counting…)we have:

  • Lead in the air (a lot of it apparently, courtesy of the local battery manufacturing industry)
  • Phenol in the water (courtesy of a tanker driver whose load tipped into the water supply, June 2011)… anyway phenol only causes severe eye damage, and sure what’s 25 tons of the stuff?

Spare a thought for those Harbiners up north whose Songhua River water supply was  contaminated with at least 80 tons of the carcinogen Benzine (ok, so that was back  in 2005 –‘water under the bridge’…so the local officials will tell you, long-term cancer risks notwithstanding).  No doubt, these same faceless apparatchiks will point to Germany’s e-coli cucumbers and bean sprouts (last week), the UK’s Mad Cows (hmmm) and Ireland’s contaminated pig meat (2008) as symptomatic of a global problem not just a China problem   – I’ve noticed they don’t really like talking about the “far worse than governments are revealing to the public” Fukushima nucleur disaster.

The Good News

Yes there is. Multiple the uproar each food scandal outside China receives by 1,000 times and you’ll get a sense of the disgust local Chinese feel about the continuing government incompetence and cynical manipulation of consumers by devious producers. China’s ‘You Are What You Eat’ sensitive generation is becoming increasingly aware of potential hazards of almost everything they eat and drink. What they see all around them are poor public hygiene surveillance and low standards of food quality all of which are cultivated by official incompetence, slapdash law enforcement, corruption and a corner-cutting culture among some businesses. It’s common knowledge that corrupt manufacturers and growers still use bribery and corruption to escape scrutiny.

Which brings me back to the bad news – that peach.

Eat The Peach? Certainly Not!

The facts:

  • Sunday evening in the neighbourhood fruit store

A shop widely considered to trade in Hangzhou’s finest selection of fruits. A large store, open 24×7, all year round, I supposed its popularity was simply down to the fact you are given what you pay for: natural fruit, preservative and pesticide free, as in normal fruit, grown locally… generating visions of suppliers being meticulously selected by a resident ‘Man from Del Monte’, giving his nod of approval to the perfect pineapple or apple… Well not quite, clearly a figment of my imagination.

The shop has a large imported section, offering exotic fruits from all over the world to their bàofā hù (nouveau riche) patrons mad for anything deemed exotic, to know off their knowledge and sophistication.  In my mind best to avoid this part of the shop for the same reason I’d avoid purchasing any ‘fresh’ consumable products from outside China, knowing the length it took to get from source to shelf (Kiwi from New Zealand, Apples from the USA? Bananas from South America? Hmm, imported fruit just looks too perfect and do we really believe they’re all air-freighted in?).

So the local fruit section it is.

  • Discerning shoppers everywhere like pawing their fruit for ripeness and the masses here are no different

However, in a big fruit shop that can make for a lot of grubby paws feeling up the goods: ‘The greener the fruit, the less manhandled its likely to be; let it ripen at home’, so the prevailing wisdom goes.

Two curvy, still hard, peaches caught my attention. I reckoned after being stored at an average room temperature of about 22 Celsius they’d be perfect to eat in three days. Back in the apartment, I left them on the table in their open plastic bag and went about my business, as in business trip to another city.

36 hours later I noticed a damp blot on the table cloth under the plastic bag and lifted it up. Liquid is seeping right through the plastic bag, and while one of the peaches looks exactly like it did when purchased, the other has simply dissolved into a gooey toxic mush.

  • And the upshot of this morbid tale about defiled peaches?

Yesterday, still incredulous, I recounted the story to the wife of Umberto, who, Umberto often complains, is overly preoccupied by a fear of preservatives, toxic chemicals, phony foods, and corrupt practices. Mother of three, Wu Bei wasn’t in the least bit surprised offering me the following prudent advice the next time I go fruit hunting in China:

“.. pick the fruit that’s looks somewhat chewed  and scarred by insects, because if  it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for you…. The most flawless delicious looking fruit is the most dangerous of all”.

A slightly more resigned Umberto quips that perhaps the best rule of thumb is to keep changing your poisons.

Seeing is believing…

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Fast forward to March 2013

– Rivers of blood: the dead pigs rotting in China’s water supply

“Shanghai’s drinking water is under threat after 16,000 diseased pig carcasses are found in tributaries of the Huangpu river…” Source / read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/29/dead-pigs-china-water-supply?guni=Article:in%20body%20link

The reason why 16,000 pigs ended up in the Huangpu River was never fully explained by the authorities.

Fast forward to April 2013

– Bottled water scandal highlights food safety challenges

“The quality “..criteria Zhejiang’s Nongfu Spring uses are looser than national tap water standards in terms of the amount of arsenic and cadmium allowed in its products…. Nongfu Spring uses criteria that were set by the government of east China’s Zhejiang Province in 2005. National standards were upgraded in 2007…. Nongfu Spring was the only drinking water company to participate in drafting the Zhejiang provincial standards….. enterprises are only allowed to adopt local standards in exceptional cases when there are no relevant national standards….Nongfu Spring’s products do not meet the requirements for such an exception… China has formulated nearly 5,000 compulsory food safety criteria due to its excessive number of government departments….”

” Source / read more: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-04/12/c_132304484.htm

Fast forward to May 2013

– Forget mutton: in China, it’s rat, fox and mink dressed as lamb

Sold in thinly sliced rolls for consumption in hotpots  the “…”lamb” was mixed with rat, fox and mink with additives including gelatin. The meat was sold to farmers’ markets in the two cities…” Source / read more: http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20130505000018&cid=1103

Fast forward to October 2013

– China’s Gutter Oil Scandal: 1/10 Of China’s Cooking Oil May Be Recycled From Garbage

“… In our current society everybody tries to swindle everybody else there’s nothing we can do about it.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kne4PL5uH7c

….. and this food scandal concerning the cat meat trade…

“.. selling cat meat to butchers who then repackaged it and sold it as rabbit…” Source / read more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10417032/Chinese-police-find-slaughterhouse-selling-cat-meat.html

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Traffic carnage: China’s roadkill

According to the Public Security Bureau (PSB) only just over 200 pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and others people died every day last year on China’s roads (The World Health Organization’s approximation is close to double this figure).  Even the minimum 73,484 deaths (out of 265,204 officially investigated traffic accidents) in 2008 (compared to just under 82,000 road kills in 2007) as published by the PSB is equivalent to the population of my home town of Dun Laoghaire being wiped out three times over.  That’s quite a sobering thought.

90,000 people died in the Sichuan Earthquake.

The most common accident scenes in a city like Hangzhou are of a crumpled bicycle / electric bike and rider lying under a car (invariably a taxi) or bus. My, first impression regarding the accident shown in the photos below, which I witnessed yesterday, was that there were no fatalities because I didn’t see an ambulance. Actually, the cyclist was removed in an unmarked van…. straight to the mortuary.

On the motorways the culprit is usually a truck (fuel tanker), while in the countryside an accident scene is likely to involve a packed long-distance sleeper bus.

And the outlook…? 

  • China accounts for 10% of global car sales and is the fastest-growing market in the world
  • 19 out of 1,000 Chinese drive a car, whereas in America some 780 people out of 1,000 do
  • There are 30 million cars in China today. By 2020, that figure could rise to 140 million cars alone (that is a lot of carbon monoxide).
  • There are over 165 million licensed motor vehicles in China, 90% of which were cars and motorcycles.
  • Over 18 million cars were privately owned.
  • Beijing has close to 3 million cars. Every day over 1,000 new vehicles appear on the streets of Beijing. To cope with the rising car numbers 1,000,000 more parking spaces are needed.
  • China had no motorways in 1988; it now has 41,000 km, the second-largest network in the world after the United States.

….. With such breakneck motorisation the outlook looks grim.
China's Roadkill Fatal Traffic AccidentsChina's Roadkill Fatal Traffic AccidentsChina's Roadkill Fatal Traffic AccidentsChina's Roadkill Fatal Traffic Accidents

 

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Two days in January: Guinness, drugs, bar brawls in China, the Gardai (Irish Police), and a roller-coaster

Saturday 10th / Sunday 11th January

Irish and Chinese pub scenes

Last Sunday appears a bit hazy, but now come to think of it, that’s probably due to the four pints of Plain (Guinness) I swallowed the previous Saturday evening with close friend and business partner P at the swank (for Dun Laoghaire at least) setting of Bordega’s Bar −well it used to be when it first opened as the 40 Foot Bar.

We didn’t mention the ‘A’ (Accurate) word once, except to remind ourselves not to mention the ‘A’ word (we’d our thinking caps on all week long planning our line of attack for 2009 and it was now time for a break, let the hair down). More to the point, there were far too many distractions in the Pub, and I’m not referring to the overly cosmeticized peroxide blondes, or the Chinese bar-tenders speaking in a Dublin dialect…. “How’r yah…what’ill yah ave” and the like. Dalian seemed another planet away.  No, the highlight was the barney (argument) between what appeared to be a Concerned Parents Against Drugs parent who over in the far corner of the bar had confronted a peddler of death and destruction, otherwise known as a drug dealer (like their European neighbours, Ireland’s towns and cities are blighted by the scourge of cocaine, heroin, and just about everything else that has caused indescribable misery for so many families). “They were having words”, as we’d say in Dublin, and things were getting a bit heated. Perhaps it was the drink, I initially thought. Nothing too unusual so far until the unremarkable looking parent, a man in his 50s, suddenly pounced on the à la mode dressed dealer, a man in his 20s. All hell broke loose, and fists were flying.

The pub’s brawny, bald and tattooed security people (we call them “bouncers”) excitedly swung into action, burying themselves in the mêlée to the point where it was difficult to make out who was who.  In due course, however, the well-practised bouncers emerged from the fray with three louts and the parent, all of whom were strong-armed from the bar.

[As an aside, I just had a rare ‘Niall deliberation’. At least three additional bar brawls and one street fight have been observed by myself over the years, and all in China…  :

  1. In 1989 I was drinking in a bar, one of those cosy diminutive bars typical of Beijing at the time, which was owned by a local Chinese friend and his English wife. Three sinister looking, thug-like, plain clothes policemen dressed in black leather jackets were seated in a dark corner apparently playing cards. They had been following my friend around for weeks. The Government didn’t like the fact he was becoming quite well-known outside China for expressing opinions they considered to be ‘counter revolutionary’, and they were taking every opportunity to harass him. Imbibing with me were  BW an Irish diplomat, and Didi, a Nigerian diplomat and Didi. Suddenly a full bottle of beer came hurtling through the air smashing against the wall within an inch of Didi’s head. One of the thugs pretending to be swaggered his way to our table: “Hei ren zou ba!” (black man get out!). We left abruptly.
  2. In 2000 I was drinking in a bar in Hangzhou with an Italian friend and two local female friends. A thug at the bar clearly very drunk was taking exception to two local ladies drinking with foreign men. He wobbled over to our table and asked the girls to leave, before cursing them in Chinese. The noisy bar Kana Bar turned eerily quiet. We ignored him, which made him even madder. Eventually, still full of bluster he turned around and headed back to his Russian and American friends gutlessly seated at the bar. We thought the intense stand-off was over, were congratulating ourselves when suddenly a wooden bar stool swished by us before crashing on to someone else’s table, whereupon all hell broke loose. Tables and chairs were flung everywhere… The four of us hide under the table before crawling out the door, untouched. Incidentally, the Russian guy at the bar is one of the most feared people mafia types in Hangzhou, while his American friend runs a bar and language school in Hangzhou.
  3. In 2002 was enjoying the Salsa at Hangzhou’s popular Night and Day when suddenly a large street-level window disintegrated from the force of a street sign post lobbed through it. A fight ensued, and there was a lot of blood… Within five minutes all was over. Apparently, the owner of the bar had fallen out with some local thugs.
  4. Oh and the fight on a street in Suzhou between two women, squealing like injured pigs, pulling hard at each other’s hair and scratching each other with their long nails, and a crowd of onlookers egging them on, nobody brave enough to intervene, least of all myself.

Curiously in all four incidents, not a uniformed policeman in sight. But I digress…]

Meanwhile back in Bordega’s a sense of normality had been restored, not that the tussle had really distracted us:  The pints and the crisps were going down well. We were having too much of craic (as in Irish for “fun” not to be confused with the Crack derivative of heroin) nattering on about our existence when about six members of An Garda Siochana  (the Irish Police) appeared from nowhere.

The Gardai have been a source of public dissatisfaction for years (some would say deservedly so, while others would say the Force shouldn’t be judged on the indiscretions of a few black sheep) on account of past recklessness including bribery, beatings (they were particularly partial to a good old-fashioned riot, especially the anti-Establishment anti-Globalisation protests run by a motley mix of Guevaraesque leftist students, anarchists,  greenies, students,  and other ‘new-age’ thinkers where they could swing their batons at will), doctoring evidence, being a little too close to certain politicians, and bumbling ineptitude.

How times have changed. After this particular Saturday night, no more will I paint all Gardai with the same villain brush, but rather they have earned my wholehearted admiration and respect. Watching them vigorously go about their work with a strong sense of purpose and duty it was clear to me this ‘new look’ Irish police force, dressed in their standard issue anti-stab vests (they don’t carry guns), has learned not only to be politely civil (they now speak clearly enunciated English, as opposed to heavily accented country-speak!!. In the 1980s a UK publication referred to them as akin to thick lumps of red meat from the mountains of Kerry, ape-like), but projects an appearance that is able-bodied, robust and confident, a clear force for the  thugs, who of late seem to gaining the advantage, to reckon with.

They courteously asked several men who they suspected of being involved in the fight to join them outside, while at the scene of the initial argument a Garda was down on all fours minutely searching the floor…. Hopefully, in his haste to defend himself from the irate parent, the ‘merchant of death’ had dropped enough traces of the misery he peddles for the Gardai to take him off the streets for a few years at least.

But really, for what they have to deal with in a daily basis I say “hats off to the Gardai”…which reminds me of the time in my youth when a friend of mind, the worse for wear after a few post international rugby match drinks too many, grabbed the hat off the head of a Garda, and started sprinting down the road.. the Garda gave chase but after about thirty meters was huffing and puffing.  Not anymore.

Still what I actually did on Sunday is still a bit obscure (now blaming the void in my brain on the jet lag)… I remember the delicious dinner of stuffed pork cooked by Mum and the bottle of Romanian red wine.

Investing in an Investor and ‘Cast-iron guarantees”

Ah, another rare ‘Niall deliberation’ has occurred. The call from Tim S, the prospective investor in ‘A’, which brought me to my senses with a thud:

“I talked to three potential investors, and they won’t be putting their money into A unless you can provide them with a cast iron guarantee of a return of investment….  but I consider what you are doing in China to be the future for Ireland”… So says Tim S. who had recently lost his shirt to the tune of €300,000 from investments in AIB, a leading Irish bank tethering on the brink of collapse (I was quick to tell him I’d lost an additional part of my clothing in the hugely over-hyped Marrakech, a memory which still touches a raw-nerve, so we’ll leave that one there).

So the NSP team that is A have put together a solid investment proposal for a business which based on some of the exciting programs coming together at last will see investors being repaid with a nice big interest within 24 months.  I am told by the movers and shakers in Ireland’s investor community that 12 months ago, given the scope for two of the key projects we are working on, and the specific plan to build a strong, stable and well-branded business, we’d have had investors queuing up.

Now the buzz term used by the private investors, venture capitalists, and banks  when turning down an investment proposal or a loan request is there need for a “cast iron guarantee” of return on investment.  Of course this is pure nonsense. Nobody can give a 100% guarantee about anything these days.

The reality is the fear of much worse financial turmoil to come, and no person, company, or bank wants to part with money they already have.  With banks not lending and investors not investing, or, worse, tightening the screws on ordinary people and businesses, they have already loaned to or invested in, there is a burning need for Government to restore confidence by decisively taking the lead in stimulating demand. Alas the half-hearted Irish Government appears like a deer standing in the middle of a dark road dazed by the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut.

Like many people running a small business, Sunday’s sleep was troubling at best: the ‘A’ dream roller-coaster analogy trundles forward at full-speed: front seat passenger (the buck stops with me), white knuckles (hanging on for my dear life, trying to keep my eyes open), massive loop-the-loops (stomach churning highs and lows), followed by huge senses of elation and delight as the roller coaster flattens out and the expected calm returns. Yes, I am looking forward to looking back and telling myself “yes  the journey was hell, but the sense of achievement, having endured and succeeded are much more important than the pain and hardship, which we’ll eventually chalk down to experience”.

18412-desktop-wallpapers-change-your-world

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Powerless in the face of nature’s overwhelming power

Burma’s 8.5.2 Cyclone Targis = 140,000 (dead humans) + 2,400,000 ≥ (homeless / destitute humans)

China’s 8.5.12 Wenchuan Earthquake = 90,000 (dead humans, including 19,000 students) + 10,000,000(homeless / destitute humans)

Indian Ocean’s 4.12.26 Indian Ocean Earthquake / Tsunami = 230,000 (dead humans) + 2,000,000 (homeless / destitute humans in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Burma and Thailand )

Burma_Cyclone_flash_appealglobal-warming-chinachinaandburmaChinaPSDSichuan Earthquake

Burma’s 5.2 Cyclone Nargis caused about US$4,000,000,000 in damage to property and livelihoods.

China’s 5.12 Sichuan earthquake caused at least US$122,000,000,000 in direct economic losses such as damage to property and livelihoods. Reconstruction will cost US$147,000,000,000

Myanmar_150X1002untitledv42n2-lin2en_4343Tsunami%20-%200015jGetBin

The 8.8 – 8.24 Olympics will cost Beijing about US$40,000,000,000 by far the most expensive in history. The opening and closing ceremonies will cost more than US$300,000,000….

The US Government’s Federal Budget 2009 Fiscal Year has allocated US$1,449,000,000,000 to the military….

USE-ME-BURMA-homepagesunken-ferry-philip_681182cphoto120932923351-020_medtsunamiposterc53489bd-6ddb-480c-a2b2-fa14b745ed48_mn

Straight from the gut? …………. There is something very very wrong with our world.

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China – Under The Hood: Sounds of Hangzhou – Tweet, beep, toot, honk, screech

Shanghai banned the honking of the horn in its commercial districts last month. Apparently, even police sirens are banned in all but emergencies… I hear that car owners are now paying to have their horns tuned with music or a human-voiced warning instead of a honk. Will noisy Hangzhou follow suit?

I seriously doubt such a ban would ever be effective here in The Pond where the taxi, bus, police and (the worst of them all) ‘official’ car drivers are a law on to their own.  Here they honk at everyone who’s in their way, and who they think is in their way, and who they are passing, and who they think is trying to pass them.  Every bicycle needs a honk in case the driver can’t see them. Every pedestrian, most definitely, because they’re not looking at anything except their feet as they float out in front of a car!

The constant cacophony of horn noise is such that everybody tunes it out in order to function, so the horns are pointless.  Nobody is listening to the horns.  But honking them is a habit the Chinese driver / rider can’t break.

Okay, now here comes a legitimate reason to honk the horn, an emergency, perhaps someone walking right out in front of a car. What does the Hangzhou driver do? He flicks his headlights. Just how stupid is that? If the pedestrian can’t hear your horn, he sure as hell can’t hear your headlights. Of course he can’t see your headlights, because he’s not looking at you. Plus, it’s daytime.

On the subject of street noise…. Wonder if Hangzhou’s apparatchik is actively measuring the city’s decibel levels. Would be interesting to see a reading.

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Irish eccentricities….. Dustin The Turkey

Over in Europe, 5,820 miles (or 9,366 kilometers) away to the north west of “The Pond” (or  Hangzhou) is a mere slip of an island of beauty ( “a terrible beauty” wrote Leon Uris), and enormous historical, cultural and religious heritage: Ireland

Also known as “The Celtic Tiger”, and “the land of saints and scholars”, and home to Nobel Lauretes James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Seamus Heaney, musicians U2, Westlife, The Corrs, Van Morrison, and Riverdance, actors Liam Neeson and Colm Farrell, Ireland is considered the “world’s friendliest country to visit” (Lonely Planet, October 2007), “the most globalised country in the world” (A.T. Kearney), and until very recently was the fastest growing European and OECD economy – for nine years in a row.

Given all this ballyhoo, for years our more self-important inhabitants have been slapping themselves on the back in deference to “this great little nation”. “Pretty good for a population of 4.1 millions” (which is about half the population of the City of Hangzhou) they would purr. And sure why wouldn’t they feel swollen with pride, with the southern part of the Ireland or “The Republic” (as our Northern brethren call us Southerners) now the envy of the world? A happening place is our Ireland!

Or t’was! What goes up, comes down, and balloons filled with too much hot air eventually burst. Of late for a nation that never had it so good there appears to be a lot of doom and gloom around. The rugby team’s performance in the 6 nations was woeful, and the economy is adrift in very stormy waters with nobody at the rudder (Prime Minister Bertie Ahern is too busy trying to clarify which of his own many explanations about how he amassed £453,000 as the Minister of Finance in the mid-1990s is true) with some fairly big rocks looming rather largely that need to be steered well clear of if a economic catastrophe is to be avoided.

Which brings me to the point of this missive: Dustin the Turkey

Who is Dustin The Turkey?  

If you haven’t heard of him… You will! It seems that the onus of restoring this great little nation’s greatness has fallen on his wings. OK, so he is a sock / glove puppet, looks like a Turkey, is renowned for his burps, belches and thick Dublin accent, and gets wheeled around in a shopping trolley.

However, Dustin is no ordinary Turkey. No other turkey in the world is a top class pop-star, builder, and Irish TV personality at the same time. And not resting on his feathers, Dustin The Turkey has also tried his wing in politics, running campaigns for a number of Irish presidential elections as a representative of the ‘Poultry Party’.  Eager now to increase his political activities throughout Europe Dustin is said to be in talks with many major European political parties in relation to launching a bid for the presidency of the European Union, which he believes is his by right.

Dustin is confident he has found the winning formula to not only restore his nation’s position of greatness, but one that  will also see him appointed President of Europe.  Declaring a direct link between the recent downturn in Ireland’s economy and Ireland’s poor showing in the Eurovision Song Contest over the last number of years (Ireland have won this European event a record seven times, but recent contests have consistently ranked us near the bottom).

In what he describes as a selfless act based on his desire to help restore his nation’s position as the High Kings of the Eurovision Song Contest, he entered the Irish song contest finals and won.  His song Irelande Douze Pointe (Ireland Twelve Points — in reference to the maximum points each country can give a contestant) will represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia, this coming May http://www.eurovision.tv/, and he is expected to win.

Thereafter he reckons the people of Europe will unite to the turkey beat and have him appointed President of Europe and all Ireland’s economic problems will be solved.

And if you don’t believe that then read the song’s lyrics:

Irelande Douze Pointe

“Oh I come from a nation what knows how to write a song

Oh Europe where oh where did it all go wrong

C’mon, Irelande douze pointe

 

Drag acts and bad acts and Terry Wogan’s wig

Mad acts and sad acts, it was Johnny Logan’s gig 

 

Shake your feathers and bop your beak

Shake ‘em to the west and to the east

Wave Euro hands and Euro feet

Wave ‘em in the air to the turkey beat

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! To the funky beat 

 

G-o-b gobble b-l-e yeah

Hello Abba, hello Bono, hello Helsinki,

Hola Prague, hello sailor, c’est la vie,

Auf wiedersehen, mamma mia and God save the Queen

G’day Austria, bonjour Serbia, you know what I mean 

 

Shake your feathers and bop your beak

Shake ‘em to the west and to the east

Wave Euro hands and Euro feet

Wave ‘em in the air to the funky beat

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

To the funky beat

 

Give us another chance, we’re sorry for Riverdance

Sure Flatley he’s a Yank and the Danube flows through France

Block votes! Shock votes! Give us your 12 today

You’re all invited to Dublin, Ireland

And we’ll party the shamrock way 

 

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe! I

relande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe!

Irelande douze pointe! Do the funky beat c’mon

Irelande douze pointe! Irelande douze pointe! 

 

Eastern Europe we love you do you like Irish stew?

Or goulash as it is to you, Irelande douze pointe

Yes it’s Bulgaria we love you Belarus, Georgia,

Montenegro, Moldova, Albania, Croatia, Poland,

Russia, Ukraine, Macedonia, don’t forget Turkey,

Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia, Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina

and don’t forget the Swiss….. Cheese .”

Likely, Dustin The Turkey will be construed as the Irish having a bit of craic (The Irish language for “fun”) at the expense of our European neighbours.

However, European eyes will also be glued to Ireland in the run up to the Ireland’s highly anticipated European Union Treaty referendum to be held on 12th June. The Treaty is effectively a Constitutuon for the European Commmunity. All 27 members of the EU must approve the Treaty for it to come into force in January 2009. Ireland is the only country holding a referendum. If Ireland rejects the Treaty, which many observers forecast will happen, as hardly anyone appears to understand what the Treaty is  about, then “this great little nation will effectively be isolated from Europe.

Nervous European lawmakers are already asking: How can you trust a country to have a serious vote when its citizens have recently voted to have a puppet turkey represent it in the Eurovision song contest?

 If you haven’t yet heard of Dustin The Turkey you soon will

Definitions:

Turkey                        tur·key      /ˈtɜrki/ [tur-kee]

–noun

  1. a large, gallinaceous bird of the family Meleagrididae, esp. Meleagris gallopavo, of America, that typically has green, reddish-brown, and yellowish-brown plumage of a metallic luster and that is domesticated in most parts of the world.
  1. Slang.
  •  a person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser.
  •  a naive, stupid, or inept person.

Footnote:  

May 20th Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals: Well Dustin got well and truly stuffed. Our friends in continential Europe didn’t see the humour. Oh well. One thing is for sure, when Dustin The Turkey returns to Ireland he is in for a roasting, such is the dismay back home.

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Special Olympics World Summer Games Euphoria – From Dublin 2003 to Shanghai 2007

Wow! It’s already over four years since the last Special Olympics World Summer Games were hosted Dublin. It was the largest sports event ever hosted in Ireland.

From 2nd to 11th October the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be hosted by Shanghai [http://www.2007specialolympics.com], the first of the three Olympic Games to be staged in China over the next 14 months, including the Summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games to be held next Summer in Beijing.

Unlike now, the days before the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2003 in Dublin were mired in controversy. At the time both Hong Kong and China were affected by the outbreak of the illness known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Irish Government fearful of SARS spreading to Ireland decided to ban the Hong Kong Special Olympics team from traveling to Ireland to compete at the Games. There was outrage in Hong Kong with protests outside the office of the Honorary Consul of Ireland. For me what was particular odious about this decision was the fact that business men and women were still allowed to freely travel to Ireland.

In Ireland on the radio, television and in the newspapers there was intense debate about the Irish Government’s decision. Living and working in Hong Kong there was a palpable sense of outage amongst the Irish community. Something had to be done. I decided to write two letters. The first which was published on 6th June, was to the Irish Examiner newspaper, while the second letter was to Chairman of the Organising Committee, Mr. Denis O’Brien (who was also an investor in the company I was working for at the time).

Irish Examiner Newpaper

Friday 6th June, 2003

 “Hong Kong’s special athletes hit by a peculiar Irish infection”

I WRITE in response to the latest “final” June 4 decision of the Department of Health and Children’s expert group on SARS and the Special Olympics to maintain its ban on Hong Kong’s disabled athletes travelling to Ireland, thus depriving them of the chance to attend what likely would be the most thrilling event in their lives.

This illogical decision comes after a period of unprecedented high-level dialogue between senior Hong Kong government officials and Irish medical experts in which the Hong Kong side sought to articulate a clearer understanding of the situation and the extra efforts that it would make to guarantee the health of its athletes before departure.

It is almost two weeks since the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the lifting of its travel advisory against Hong Kong, noting that SARS outbreaks had been contained, which is not much different to its observations regarding the status of Canada and mainland China.

In fact, all new SARS cases confirmed in Hong Kong over the past month (an average of fewer than five cases per day compared to upwards of 60 daily at the end of March) have occurred in people who were already identified as contacts of a person with SARS and under active surveillance by the local health authorities.

None of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes hoping to travel to Ireland has had contact with any SARS patients, or any suspected cases.

The WHO has highly commended Hong Kong’s transparency and aggressive Hong Kong Special Olympics procedures.

All close contacts of known SARS cases are quarantined at home.

In addition, their Hong Kong ID numbers are passed to the immigration department to ensure that they cannot leave the territory.

Since the implementation of these rigorous exit-screening procedures at border checkpoints, which also include mandatory temperature checking of all outbound travellers, there have been no reports of internationally exported cases of SARS from Hong Kong.

What is more, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended against cancelling or postponing gatherings that will include people travelling to the US from areas with SARS, and the quarantine of persons arriving from SARS-affected areas who have shown no fever or respiratory symptoms.

As such, over the past fortnight Hong Kong exhibitors have been welcomed to the Las Vegas Jewellery Fair and the Cannes Film Festival as a result of the precautionary measures that the exhibitors had undertaken voluntarily.

And yet, it is against such transparency that Ireland still maintains its travel ban depriving athletes, some of whom have trained for up to eight years and whose team won 53 gold medals at the last Special Olympics, their chance to be the pride of Hong Kong.

Remarkably, no such travel ban has been imposed on other travellers from Hong Kong seeking entry to Ireland.

This ‘final’ decision appears not only irrational, but also hypocritical, given the latest guidelines conveniently lifting the travel ban on athletes from cities and regions where local transmission of SARS has not been reported, meaning that the Special Olympic Games will not be devoid of two of the largest participating teams, Canada and China.

It demonstrates that the Department of Health and Children has chosen not to follow the WHO‘s advice and made a decision without due regard to the precautionary measures that the Hong Kong Special Olympics Committee had proposed to take before their departure for the games.

The official flag presentation ceremony for the Hong Kong Special Olympics team is set to take place here on June 8, an event supported by The Hong Kong Gaelic Athletic Association, the St Patrick’s Society of Hong Kong, the Irish Business Forum and Enterprise Ireland.

It is the fervent wish of the Irish community in Hong Kong that the Irish government remove this unnecessary travel ban.

Niall O’Reilly,

15, Mosque Street,

Mid-Levels,

Hong Kong.

[Source: This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, June 06, 2003 

http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2003/0606/ireland/hong-kongaposs-special-athletes-hit-by-a-peculiar-irish-infection-983257838.html]

The about-turn was remarkable.

Three days before the Opening Ceremony in Dublin, without prior notice, at 3.00 am I was awaken by the loud ringing sound of my telephone.  On the other end of the line was Denis O’Brien excitedly describing the excellent news that the Irish Government had decided to lift its travel ban and that the special athletes from Hong Kong were free to travel to Ireland. Denis O’Brien also offered to send his private jet to collect the Hong Kong team from London.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin were a wonderful success, and I have heard from several people who were lucky enough to attend, the Opening Ceremony or witness it television that one of the most emotional memories of the evening was the arrival in the Croke Park stadium of the Hong Kong team when the packed house of 80,000 people stood up to cheer them these very special athletes. 

For me the abiding memory that will stay with me is being invited to represent the Irish Community of Hong Kong at the welcome home ceremony for the successful Hong Kong team. The sparkling smiles on the faces of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes, bedecked with gleaming gold and silver medals, will always stay in my mind.

“On June 19, I had the privilege of carrying the Olympic Torch – or Flame of Hope as it is called – and leading the Final Leg Torch Run team into Clonmel. Clonmel is a town of about 25,000 people and I would estimate that about half were on the streets to greet us. I have never seen so many Hong Kong flags in my life. They flew from the rooftops, from the buildings, from the churches and from the hands of thousands of people on the streets. And everyone was shouting Hong Kong! Hong Kong! at the tops of their voices.

“We ran into the town square where the Lord Mayor was present to greet us. I handed over the Flame of Hope. The Mayor took me to one side and told me that the Hong Kong team had not arrived. They were still in Macao under quarantine for SARS.

“To have run so far (over 200 miles) and not see the Hong Kong team was heartbreaking. I am not ashamed to say that I fell to my knees and wept.

“However, the Mayor told me that the Hong Kong team would be arriving in Dublin the following day and that a delegation from Clonmel would go to meet and welcome them. On the evening of June 21, we carried the Flame of Hope into Croke Park, Dublin, for the start of the games.

“The Special Olympics teams then marched into Croke Park in alphabetical order. I heard the master of ceremonies say “And now I see a particular team coming into the stadium. This is a team that we thought we would never see. But now they are here and we are so pleased to see them. Give a big, big welcome for Hong Kong!” About 85,000 people stood up and at the tops of their voices shouted: Hong Kong! Hong Kong! The noise was unbelievable! But it was obviously inspiring Ñ the Hong Kong Special Olympics team won 31 medals at this year’s games.

“I had a wonderful career with the Hong Kong Police Force and have had a wonderful life. But nothing in my experience is likely to top the emotion that I felt running for Hong Kong on the Law Enforcement Final Leg Torch Run.”

Source: Mr Peter Halliday, former Assistant Commissioner (Information Systems), Hong Kong Police Force helped carry the Special Olympics Games torch from Athens to Dublin http://www.police.gov.hk/offbeat/757/eng/s01.htm

"Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?" (Source: Mei-Yu Lau - http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com.es/2008/11/cartwheels-in_21.html ]

Gymnast Mei-Yu Lau, Team Hong Kong, on the vault at the 2003 Special Olympics Summer Games in Dublin: “Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?”                                (Source: Mei-Yu Lau – http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com.es/2008/11/cartwheels-in_21.html )

And so fast forward to late next week when a delegation of 1,000 Irish Special Olympians and their families will arrive in Shanghai to participate in the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2007. Let the Games begin!

[Note: Special Olympics is an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition]

Note: My review of the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2000, in Shanghai  ‘Words matter: Mentally retarded or human gift? Looking back at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai’ is posted here: 

https://nialljoreilly.com/2007/11/08/words-matter-mentally-retarded-or-human-gift-looking-back-at-the-special-olympics-world-summer-games-in-shanghai/ ]

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