Who’s been casting Marine’s votes?

The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is being accused of fraud.

Le Pen appears to have voted in the European Parliament without being present the chamber. Voting by proxy is against the rules of the house.

A Swedish deputy reported seeing the anti-immigration politician leave the hemicycle and then noticing her votes being cast regardless.

Le Figaro reports that Le Pen’s voting card has been used in her absence eight times, allegedly by a neighbouring member. The European People’s Party has asked for an inquiry to be opened.

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Business reacts to DIT leaving the Liberties

Published in The Liberty

Local businesses have mixed feelings about DIT leaving the Liberties, ending a history of almost 130 years.

Eight locations will gradually merge into one at Grangegorman on the northside. Two of the busiest academic campuses in the country, at Aungier Street and Kevin Street, will soon start the moving process.

The move is a fresh challenge for the district, where conditions are beginning to stabilise after the economic uncertainty of recent years.

The National College of Art & Design has abandoned plans to relocate from Thomas Street. Christian Hayden owns A4Art, a stationery supplier which began as a student enterprise at NCAD. The shop has now been independent for twelve years.

He pointed out the many similarities between Thomas Street and Aungier Street. Both are home to major colleges and several independent cafés and shops. “The college is like the anchor tenant in a shopping centre.

“We specialise in art supplies and we’re the same distance from Grangegorman as from Aungier Street. I’m more concerned about Camden Street.” O’Sullivan’s stationers closed recently after generations in business.

“Most of our business comes from students so the summer is quiet. There’s a real risk of the Liberties being like that throughout year. It doesn’t bear thinking about but it has to be thought about.

“There’ll be a real strain on Grangegorman too. Politicians don’t seem to have considered that.”

Stephen Coyne, the facilitator of the Liberties Business Forum for Dublin City Council, highlighted the resilience that is “part of the Liberties’ DNA. Thomas Street was a primary shopping street in the 1960s and 70s. But it’s not central and the city has since become consolidated.”

As society changes and more of shoppers’ needs are met in supermarkets, independent outlets tend to lose out. “People like to see nice little shops but they don’t actually go into them. If a street finds a role for itself, it’s more likely to survive and be busy.

“Francis Street has become a hub for traditional crafts, galleries and antique shops. Big chains are absent so there’s more of a community feel. Specialisation encourages people to do their shopping locally.”

Some fear that independent outlets could be priced out of premises as the area becomes fashionable. There is also anecdotal evidence of businesses paying more in rates than in rent, with the effect of the city “hollowing out”. But the number of vacant properties remains relatively low.

Tourism remains important to the Liberties. Thomas Street leads to the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s most popular attraction. Half of last year’s 1.4 million visitors arrived at the brewery on foot, bringing with them demand for food, drink and memorabilia.

New blocks for student accommodation are to be built near the Digital Hub. It’s hoped that the new residences will spark a round-the-clock economy for the Thomas Street area, which tends to be quiet at night.

The Digital Hub is a centre for the startup scene, as is the Guinness Enterprise Centre, home to over 100 small businesses.

The Liberties Business Forum can be followed online at libertiesdublin.ie, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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Tough times for Dublin pubs

Published in The Liberty

Dublin’s publicans are refuting claims of a rebound from the recession.

In the bustling bars on Thomas Street, tourists mingle with regulars as they enjoy a pint and place bets on horse racing. Bar workers say that conditions have improved considerably compared to the same period two years ago. One barman said his proximity to the Guinness brewery was key to his success.

But off the beaten track in The Coombe, Shanahan’s barman Willie Hudson is less optimistic. There is ‘definitely not’ an increase in sale figures he says, although ‘we got some increase with Paddy’s Day, Mothers’ Day and Easter coming together. There’s a steady stream of locals and they’re loyal but it’s hard to see things getting better this year.’

It’s been a ‘tough’ winter for Willow Murphy’s, which recently celebrated six months in business near St James’s Hospital. The new pub depends more on visitors than local people. ‘There’s a lot of unemployment in the area so the talk of a recovery feels a bit false,’ explains Graham Murphy. ‘If we had more jobs around here, the locals would spend more on a social life.’

Value lagers offer an alternative to customers, who stand to save at least one euro per pint compared to mass market beers. They have become particularly popular since the ‘credit crunch’ of recent years.

But some city centre bars’ prices can still undercut pub prices by more than half. Discounts and promotions have become essential for pubs to survive.

City centre superclubs pose competition to the city’s traditional pubs. In a straw poll one evening, the average price for a pint of Guinness was €4.70. Value Added Tax and excise duty account for about a third of this price. On Harcourt Street, however, there was a promotional price of €2 during the week.

With Wetherspoon’s on its way to nearby Camden Street, competition will only increase. Chain pubs famously cut costs by curbing entertainment like music and sports.

Staff at more traditional bars are undaunted by the idea. ‘Those places are a bit soulless’, said one barman; ‘When you go to a pub, the atmosphere is what you’re paying for’. Another drew parallels with socialising in a library, saying that ‘Irish people prefer to feel more at home’.

Minimum pricing laws will soon apply to off licences, which allow cost conscious consumers to drink alcohol at home. The National Off Licence Association (NOffLA) recommended a minimum cost of 70c per 10g of alcohol, which is approximately one standard unit. The actual price is expected to be between 90c and €1.10 if the Public Health Bill is passed during the summer.

The government hopes the move will curb careless consumption of alcohol. Minister Leo Varadkar has said that only the cheapest alcoholic drinks will be affected. The Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA) supports the move, saying it will create a level playing field for its 600 members around Dublin. It has been critical of below cost selling.

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Distilling returns to the Liberties

Published in The Liberty

For the first time in nearly forty years, a type of whiskey unique to Ireland is being distilled in the Liberties.

Dublin has long been desirable for distillers and brewers. The city has no shortage of water and barley is abundant. As the capital recovers from a difficult few years economically, the Teeling family and the Dublin Whiskey Company promise to revive the traditional spirit of the city.

Although spelling is the most obvious difference between foreign “whisky” and the Irish offering, a much deeper distinction has been formulated over four centuries. Circumstances changed constantly and distillers developed an instinct for improvisation and innovation.

The malt tax was introduced in 1670, prompting whiskey producers to use unmalted barley. Licensing of stills became compulsory in 1760 following widespread tax evasion. Poitín was distilled illegally in isolated areas to evade the law.

Walter Teeling began a family tradition in 1782 when he opened a distillery at Marrowbone Lane, around the corner from Arthur Guinness’s brewery at St James’s Gate. That distillery operated for almost forty years.

The distilling method used overseas was actually a Dubliner’s idea. Excise officer Aeneas Coffey designed a column still in 1831 with speed and efficiency in mind. The practice of conducting several distillations at once was embraced overseas but Dublin distillers rejected the idea for fear that it would compromise quality. Old fashioned pot stills continue to be used in Ireland, but a blend of column and pot-still whiskey has become the norm.

The turn of the twentieth century was turbulent for the Irish economy. Following the First World War, newly independent Ireland entered a trade war with the British Empire. Tariffs on Irish goods gave a competitive advantage to Scotch whiskey in much of the English-speaking world.

While Irish Catholics took a pledge not to consume alcohol on the advice of their church, authorities in America banned it altogether. Prior to prohibition, Irish whiskeys were among the most popular in the United States. Scarce supplies were smuggled and bootlegging became common. When the ban was lifted, there was renewed competition from Bourbon whiskey originating from the United States.

From 1973, Irish exporters could take advantage of the European Economic Community’s (EEC’s) open borders. Nevertheless, distilling in Dublin ended when production of Jameson whiskey moved to Middleton in Cork three years later. The Bow Street Distillery in Smithfield, which operated for almost two centuries, remains a popular tourist attraction.

Sales of Irish whiskey have grown steadily over the past few decades. About 90% of Irish whiskey is exported and Teeling’s highlights that exports have increased by 220% over the past ten years. Whiskey is also the key ingredient of a range of popular liqueurs.

The economic recovery and the craft beer craze have heightened demand for specialities from bars and off-licences. The two new distilleries will make small batches of hand-crafted products to be sold in Ireland and abroad. The new stills at Newmarket are the first to be installed in Dublin for 125 years. The former site of the Busby distillery is being brought back to life.

Wexford native Marie Byrne’s Dublin Whiskey Company is to begin distilling in the coming months. The company is offering casks of its whiskey for pre-order. By law, Irish whiskey must be aged in a wooden cask for at least three years before bottling, at which point the maturation process ends.

In a neighbouring building, brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling will be able to distill half a million litres of whiskey annually from using a still imported from Italy. Teeling Whiskey is already available across Ireland and in more than 30 foreign markets.

Their father John is a business lecturer at University College Dublin and the owner of the Cooley Distillery in Co. Louth, which is in its twenty-eighth year. Cooley produces Kilbeggan and Greenore whiskeys and even a brand of Poitín.

For bartenders across the capital, the new products do not disappoint. The citrus Whiskey Sour remains ever popular. More creative concoctions complement old favourites, with more elaborate ingredients ranging from  egg white to aperitif wine.

The two distilleries are located at Newmarket, close to St Patrick’s Cathedral. A total of 60 people will be employed permanently. Visitor centres will open later this year, allowing Dubliners and tourists alike to see the new distilleries for themselves.

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Hi, I’m Jack. Welcome to my new home on the web.

I’m a student journalist at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Ireland. I’m also studying French and I’m fascinated by languages, the media, public affairs and culture.

Here you’ll find a selection of my articles, ideas, projects and other things I’d like to share. Please feel free to get in touch. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or drop me an email.

Thanks for your visit!

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College accommodation crisis

As rent prices continue to rise, Jack Roland gets to grips with accommodation available to students at home and abroad.

Published in The Edition

A new online vacancy database has been launched to help DIT students in their search for accommodation.

DIT Student Pad will connect users with landlords offering accommodation close to the twelve DIT locations. So far, the majority of vacancies are in family homes across the city, although shared apartments and houses are also available.

Student Pad has worked with colleges across Ireland and Britain since 1999, helping students to find appropriate housing and easing concerns that property owners will reject applications from students.

The number of resourceful residences in Dublin has fallen in recent years. Authorities now consider bedsits with communal facilities unacceptable. The most affordable student rooms are now full to capacity and at UCD, students had to be compensated when Ziggurat’s apartments at the former Montrose Hotel were not ready for the start of the semester.

Students currently pay €135 each per week to share a twin bedroom in an apartment recommended by DIT. At the minimum wage, a student has to work 16 hours per week to pay their own rent. Food, hygiene and college materials add further expenses.

Comparable accommodation at Trinity Halls of Residence near Rathmines costs just over €128, while the rate at Griffith Halls on the South Circular Road is €137. The only remaining vacancies are now in more costly private rooms.

Rent as low as €60 per person per week can be found outside of official student accommodation in Kilmainham, Inchicore and Stoneybatter. However, low rents often exclude utilities like electricity and broadband and some older apartment buildings are less secure than shared houses.

DIT continues to look for suitable locations for student apartments. The new Grangegorman development will eventually allow DIT students to live on campus for the first time, although that area currently lacks places to stay for students whose courses are already based there.

Many students have resorted to backpacker hostels for temporary accommodation. One hostel in Smithfield advertises a bed, WiFi and shower facilities for €8.50 per weeknight. But weekend rates are higher and many hostels enforce a maximum length of stay that is unsuitable for student living.

Dublin City councillors are divided over the idea of using prefabs to address the shortage of low-rent homes in the city. In recent years, universities around the world have constructed apartment blocks using renovated shipping containers to accommodate students.

The Australian National University in Canberra began to use prefab student homes in 2009. Six storeys containing seventy studio and one-bedroom apartments were ready within six months of being ordered. Each resident has their own bathroom, kitchen, study space and balcony at a lower cost than a privately rented flat.

In South Africa, Johannesburg students call a similar development home. Former grain silos have been converted into ten spacious storeys of apartments and amenities, with shipping containers providing six more floors.

The modular construction method allows units to be transported easily and stacked wherever they are needed. The apartments are insulated against temperature and noise. Staggered spacing can be used to avoid creating identical high-rise blocks.

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Getting back on course with Open Source

In recent months, I have taken a very strong interest in the wide world of alternative software that is available.

Although I was aware of open source material before, I was always wary of the potential hazards. What if it failed? My files could have been lost. My computer may even have been left useless. But during the summer, I finally took a leap into the unknown and installed the free Linux-based operating system Ubuntu on an old laptop. Since then, my digital life hasn’t been the same.

I quickly became something of a missionary for the cause, distributing complimentary Ubuntu CDs to anyone who may be interested. An old rule of thumb is that what seems ‘too good to be true’ often is. There are also many people who still look upon non-mainstream software with suspicion, as it once carried connotations of knock-off equipment available at low cost. I ran into such a problem when I suggested Ubuntu to my housemate as a solution to his technical woes, as well as the language barrier.

“Linux?” he asked, followed by an emphatic “Is this a joke?!”. But when I showed him a polished and practical operating system running in his native dialect, his opinion quickly changed. In an increasingly multilingual world, Ubuntu’s foreign language support is formidable. With just a few mouse clicks, the working language of a computer can be changed temporarily to assist speakers of other languages. The system runs very smoothly in Irish, as well as various standards of English, French, Spanish and other languages. Encouragingly, these features were developed by a non-profit organisation and many of them are the work of passionate volunteers.

Linux has been available since 1991, based on the deliberately simplistic Unix codes of the late 1970s. Since then, it has been used in many different ways to streamline computers’ operations, in infrastructure, workplaces and personal equipment. The prevalence of broadband has allowed for its adoption by anyone with basic computer hardware. Installation discs are still a convenience but they are no longer essential.

Unknown to the majority of internet users, Linux is part of the daily rituals of most of us. The majority of servers on the internet are totally dependent on Linux, including email services, bulletin boards, blogs and news sources. Google’s Android smartphones run a derivative of Linux and the inner workings of Apple devices bear more than a striking resemblance to the format.

Since its first release in 2004, the Ubuntu operating system has been regarded as a beginner’s gateway into open source software. Named after a southern African concept of co-operation between people, Ubuntu is available free of charge. A new edition is released twice annually and  anoraks have carte blanche to tweak and share the suite in any way they see fit. There are also many officially approved variants of the software designed for different purposes and user bases, such as the “light” Lubuntu for older and less powerful machines and Edubuntu, designed with younger children and their schools in mind.

Many free software packages come as standard with Ubuntu, including LibreOffice, which includes a word processor, slideshow suite, spreadsheet composer and drawing software. Interestingly, its predecessor OpenOffice could save files into the industry-norm PDF format long before its commercial rivals. Although some developers may seek a fee or ask for a donation from the user, the majority of Ubuntu’s most useful software is totally free of charge. Ubuntu instinctively seeks permission every time a change is made to the system. This means that the threat posed to computers by viruses and spying software is diminished considerably, as is the need for costly security software.

Windows users have all experienced a time when a presentation or lesson had to be postponed while their computer suspended itself to install updates. Updates like these take place practically unknown to the user in the background of Ubuntu, preventing inconvenience and embarrassment. Without any technical expertise, I have been able to fix computer problems with a few simple keystrokes. This is a departure from the costly professional reboots my family’s main computer has needed in the past. Enthusiasts around the world can be found online and many have compiled comprehensive series of instructional videos for various distributions of Linux.

I must admit that I have not yet mastered coding. The user interface is clear and unintimidating but most functions can also be achieved using code and I can appreciate its potential as a time saving practice. It is also an invaluable skill for the workplace; as the media landscape becomes increasingly converged, server breakdowns remain an inopportune fact of life.

Canonical, founded by 40-year-old Mark Shuttleworth, is the company behind Ubuntu and its derivatives. In 2002, Shuttleworth funded his own journey as the first South African in space. Reputable manufacturers including Acer, Lenovo and Hewlett Packard are now collaborating with Canonical to offer sturdy machines with Ubuntu pre-installed, which can reduce the purchase price of high quality computers. This will also make Ubuntu available for the first time to people who lack the enthusiasm (or the bravery) to renovate their computers through do-it-yourself.

Work practices often dictate that the same operating system must be used throughout a large organisation. This is gradually changing now that the bulk of tasks can be completed over the internet from a web browser or portable device, which has eliminated the need to purchase licences and install software permanently. Furthermore, Linux-based operating systems tend to work harmoniously with the likes of Windows and Macintosh, even when more than one standard runs on the same computer. It is surprisingly simple to open files prepared using other operating systems, despite my initial fears that they might clash.

Dual Boot is a concept beloved by Linux users. It allows for the use of more than one operating system and a partition in the storage space on a computer. This means that anyone curious about Linux may begin to experiment with the software without overhauling Windows or another operating system altogether. It is possible at a later date to switch to Linux completely or to remove it from the computer. Windows 7 is still available on my computer but I very rarely have the need to use it. Of course, having paid for Windows, I see no harm in retaining it as a safety net.

Many organisations around the world have embraced the open source model. France’s civil police la Gendarmerie Nationale has dropped its commitments to software companies entirely and recently completed a transition to using open source software exclusively. The force’s computing costs have already decreased by over 40%.

Canonical now also has aspirations to introduce Ubuntu for handheld devices such as mobile phones and tablet computers. Albeit aimed mainly at the developing world for the time being, it seems that the prevalence of open source will only increase in the coming years. Recent revelations of intrusive surveillance and security breaches have dented public trust in large technology companies.

Economically awkward times are also prompting people to look beyond materialism and brands in favour of practical, reliable and durable equipment. Users are having to reconsider their expenditure on basic computer essentials like office suites and antivirus software packages.

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