By Stephen McKinley
Northbrook Technologies, an IT firm, has created 550 additional jobs in Derry and Belfast.
The company already has plants in the two cities, which will be expanded from a current total workforce of 250. Northbrook Technologies is a subsidiary of a large U.S. personal insurance company, Allstate.
Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan hailed the news, saying that it was “a clear signal that Northern Ireland was a serious player in the technology sector.”
“It is hugely significant, it is very welcome, and the fact is that it will be the biggest single investment in the software sector in Northern Ireland,” he said. “There are 250 in Derry and 300 jobs in Belfast coming on top of 250 very successful jobs that already exist. ”
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Guinness, always innovating, has thrown a new product into its drinks market — the “revolutionary rocket widget,” which allows drinkers to “enjoy authentic draft Guinness straight from the bottle.”
Each time the bottle is tipped back for a sip, the rocket-shaped widget inside releases a tiny jet of CO2 and NO2 gas to give the Guinness its appropriate creamy taste. One Guinness drinker told the Echo that it was as close to a real pint back home as he had experienced in a while.
“Think euro,” says the slogan all over Ireland, “the change is in your pocket.”
With the arrival of the single currency in Ireland on Jan. 1, the changes in Irish life are myriad. The Catholic Church was concerned a few months ago that donations in the new currency would slip if parishioners started donating a euro coin instead of a pound coin — about 30 percent less in value.
Now it’s the turn of bookmakers to look worried. The Irish love horse racing, with betting worth more than _1 billion every year. The new currency arrives on New Year’s Day, a high point in the racing calendar. Bookies will be expected to take bets in punts, and give change and winnings in euros.
And bookmakers have another concern, similar to that of the church.
“If a customer has a _100 bet now, he’s probably going to bet 100 euros next year. And that’s really only worth _79,” bookmaker John Kennedy said.
And Vinny Kearns, vice president of the National Taxi Drivers Union, said that those out celebrating the New Year could have trouble as well.
“I think they’re going to have enough difficulty trying to remember their address without having to contend with euros and punts,” he suggested.
Where are the women?
Female entrepreneurs are in short supply in Ireland, according to a survey by the European Union.
Women make up 15 percent of self-employed people, less than most European countries, the U.S., Canada and Japan.
Portugal shows an astounding 41 percent of business persons are female.
Gillian Bowler, president of the Institute of Directors, told the Irish Times that she wasn’t surprised. There was, she said, already a trend away from setting up businesses in Ireland, “due to the amount of jobs available at good salary levels.”
Traditional gender roles may still play a role as well, the survey concluded.
Tourist trade will rebound
Tourism — dead duck or phoenix rising? It depends whom you ask.
Reeling from foot-and-mouth disease, the declining economy, and the Sept. 11 terror attacks, tourism chiefs in Ireland expect the industry to suffer heavily in the next year or so.
But the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation has predicted that tourism will create more jobs in the next five years than manufacturing will.
Based on figures from 2000, Hotels Federation president Howard Hastings said that the hospitality trade grew at more than 50 percent of the Northern Irish average.
“Currently the local economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty as a result of the global slowdown and the events of Sept. 11,” he said. “However, Northern Ireland as a tourist destination is better placed than other regions in the UK and Ireland to grow strongly over the next few years. Regions like ours are rarely afforded second chances to rebrand themselves and we cannot afford to get it wrong.”
He added that tourist numbers fell 60 percent during the first four years of the Troubles and it took nearly 30 years to get them back to where they were in 1968.
Treasures of Ireland ( 289-8490) has announced its latest item of jewelry: a Claddagh pin and pendant, with a rippling American flag above the traditional Claddagh crown and heart. The pieces were manufactured in response to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
Another year, another budget — another spate of spin.
Though greeted with a largely positive response this year, the budget of Finance Minister Charlie McGreevy received a lukewarm welcome from some interest groups.
The Conference of Religious of Ireland attacked the budget, saying that it was “unjust, unfair and unacceptable.”
“For the fifth year in a row this government has failed to give priority to the deprivation being experienced by Ireland’s poorest people,” the CRI said.
The group said that with current provisions, Ireland’s poorest people now lived on _93.56 per week.
New lunch spot
Celebrated Dublin restaurateur Mike Fitzgerald has added a third hostelry to his successful Commons duo, the Commons Cafe and the Commons Restaurant.
Says Fitzgerald, Citron caters to the business crowd, shoppers and corporate clients, seeking a quick but quality lunch in an urbane, civilized setting.