By John Kelly
While almost every headline in every newspaper warns of impending foot-and-mouth disaster and while every suspected case leads to a sharp national intake of breath, other things are happening in Ireland. It is not all doom and gloom.
Let those who planned to visit us from the U.S take heart. Come on over. Ireland is not yet in a funereal pall. Nor is it closed down. It may not be jumping with the verve of "Riverdance." But it is not crawling along the international stage either.
Not alone is there life after foot and mouth. There is life during it as well.
Miracles still happen. Our soccer team is now on top of its qualifying group in the World Cup series. That certainly is not bad when you consider that two of the teams we lead, Portugal and Holland, are still two of the world’s strongest.
Livelier, more adventurous spirits are already blithely planning their travel itinerary for the showdown in Japan while they oil their throats for the uproarious renditions of innumerable versions of the "Fields of Athenry."
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There is nothing to beat a refreshing dose of optimism. If we do make it, and there is every reason to believe that we can, we are sure to enjoy a surfeit of Japanese visitors later.
The Italians are still coming after our last World Cup appearances there.
And it sees that the Chinese are intent on coming in greater numbers as well.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who visited there recently, apparently built up such a large profile as to attract tourists and interested potential business investors who are greatly intrigued by the success of the Irish economy.
Now, as the result of the visit of a 15-member trade delegation to Ireland, led by the deputy mayor of Beijing, Dublin Corporation is to consider the twinning of the two cities.
Apparently, we are already twinned with San Jose, Calif., Barcelona and, of course, Liverpool, often called the real capital of Ireland.
But the possibility of twinning with Beijing as well has led to concern on the part of members of the Irish branch of Amnesty International, who are aware of China’s poor human rights record.
Chinese delegations are now visiting Ireland at the rate of one a month, most of them sponsored by Enterprise Ireland.
In recognition of the vast potential of the Chinese market, the taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, initiated the "Asia Strategy," as it is called, in 1999.
"Ireland Inc." now has offices in Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and, yes indeed, Beijing.
Unscrupulous landlords have taken advantage of the fact that a substantial number of Filipino nurses now work in Ireland because of a labor shortage here. Irish hospital administrators consider the nurses to be excellent.
The same cannot be said for the accommodation some were provided with in Dublin. Substandard is hardly the right word to describe the large house where they lived on Gardiner Street, only a few minutes walk from O’Connell Street.
No fewer than 54 nurses from the Philippines, attracted by the Department of Health to work in Ireland by higher wages and a chronic nursing shortage, lived in the "House of Horrors," as the Lower Gardiner Street guest house is now called.
As many as four were forced to sleep in tiny rooms. Some mattresses were placed on the bare floorboards. There was only one toilet and a grease-stained kitchen.
The Filipinos, most working in the few remaining inner-city hospitals, were obviously afraid to complain. After all, they were foreigners living in a strange city. They avoided complaints because they feared the possible results.
Their grim circumstances only came to light after an Irish nurse decided to check on their accommodation.
While it exposed a new form of virtual rack-renting that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the "new Ireland," it also revealed the type of discrimination that some newly arrived racial minorities have to face, particularly in Dublin and the bigger cities to which they are attracted.
Successive visiting dignitaries to Ireland with experience of racism throughout the world have warned the Irish people that they will soon face the need for radical changes in their attitudes to the increasing number of immigrants who come to work and live here.
The former president and UN commissioner, Mary Robinson, is one who has continually pushed the alarm button, pleading with the Irish people to ensure that racism never becomes an issue in this country.
It is a potential problem that we never had to face before to any great extent. Some racial disputes and attacks have already occurred in Dublin. Fortunately, so far, it has not proved to be a huge problem. Generally, the Irish have treated it all with great forbearance. All of that may change too if the numbers become much greater.
But, so far, we remain a welcoming people, except to sheep. However, there was no welcome either for the extraordinary repudiation of an election promise by U.S President George Walker Bush on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions throughout the world.
The Greenhouse effect is of great concern to the European Union and most of the West. British scientists believe it may have been primarily responsible for the extraordinarily wet winter it suffered this year.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol set targets for industrialized nations to reduce gas emissions into the atmosphere.
Now, despite his election promises of support for the international effort, President Bush has announced the U.S. would not ratify the protocol.
European leaders have reacted with considerable anger. The French environmental minister described the president’s recent statement as provocative and irresponsible.
The European Union environment commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, warned that it was an issue that could not be played down. It was much too serious for the world at large, she claimed.
Ahern described it as "unhelpful."
In short, disease or no disease, things are pretty normal in Ireland. After a four-week layoff, even the GAA teams are back in action this weekend.
There is life after death, after all.