Celebrations and commiserations in one short week

Our beautiful county of Mayo was in the headlines this week for all the right reasons and all the wrong reasons. It was a week of great jubilation, but the county was also shrouded in scandal and controversy.

The visit by Prince Albert of Monaco and his stunningly beautiful fiancée Charlene Wittstock to Newport on Wednesday evening gave a massive boost to the local community who are extremely proud of their links with the late Princess Grace.

This high profile visit cannot pass without the opportunity used to further develop Newport’s links with the Monaco Royal family.

Tourism is one of Ireland’s greatest assets and could go a long way to pulling this country from the economic ruin we have found ourselves in.

It is our country’s natural beauty and ruggedness that attracts visitors from all over the world, but that alone will not sustain tourism numbers with holiday makers everywhere feeling the pinch now and taking greater consideration about where they go and how much they spend on vacations.

In Mayo all the tourism providers must come together and offer a sophisticated and appealing tourism package to visitors from home and abroad.

Now it seems the US President Barack Obama will come west to Mayo during his May visit. This, coupled with the planned trips by Queen Elizabeth and the Dalai Lama, are all opportunities for Fáilte Ireland and local tourism boards to promote this country on a global scale.

We have been presented with a unique opportunity for our tourism industry, and with all eyes on Ireland over the coming months it is imperative that we use these visits for optimum return.

And in Mayo we have the added advantage that the Junior Minister for Tourism, Michael Ring, is one of our own, has bundles of enthusiasm, and would be only too delighted to offer any assistance within his remit to his home county.

Unfortunately the county was also rocked by scandal and controversy with the releasing of the ‘rape tape’, recorded inadvertently after two female Shell to Sea protesters were arrested for public order offences in Aughoose on Thursday.

Members of An Garda Síochána were alleged to have joked about threatening to deport one of the women and rape her.

This story is an awful indictment on the force. To think that any person, man or woman, would joke about something as dark and sinister as rape, a heinous crime, is sick.

Undoubtedly the sorry affair has given impetus to the Shell to Sea campaign with many people, who may have shared some sympathy with the gardaí policing the protests, now firmly backing the campaign.

Shell to Sea have been shouting for years about the abuse they meet when protesting and their cries have often been met with raised eyebrows. But these tapes have now given credence to their cries and the whole world will be watching closely how members of An Garda Síochána behave in future.

An internal investigation has been conducted and a second investigation is under way by the Garda Ombudsman Commission. However, it is thought that the gardaí at the centre of this scandal will not be dismissed, although they could be suspended and or handed down monetary fines.

What is extremely worrying is that one of the women was forced to come forward this week and make a public statement after her personal details, including her Dublin address, which she gave at Belmullet Garda Station, were leaked to some journalists. This is another aspect of this awful affair that needs investigating. The gardaí definitely have a job on their hands now to regain the public’s confidence.

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