Northern Ireland play Serbia in World Cup Qualifier

By Fearghus Roulston

Northern Ireland will take on Serbia behind closed doors after violent troubles following the Serb’s October game against Italy.

This hasn’t deterred fans from travelling however, with hundreds expected to make the trip. 200 Northern Irish supporters have been given special dispensation from UEFA to attend the game.

The British minnows have enjoyed mixed fortunes in their qualifying campaign so far, beating Slovenia but drawing with Italy and the Faroe Islands.

Manager Nigel Worthington has made changes in the squad following a dismal performance in a 3-0 loss to Scotland.

Chris Baird will captain the side from an unfamiliar central midfield role, with Chris Brunt in an advanced midfield role behind lone striker Kyle Lafferty.

The manager admired Serbia’s technique, saying: ” “We have got to look to get a good start right from kick-off, go and get stuck into them like we have done to teams in the past when we have got results against quality teams”.

The game kicks off at 19.30.

Ireland loses living wage

by Fearghus Roulston

The minimum wage in Ireland will be cut by a euro, falling to €7.65, as part of a planned series of austerity measures introduced by Taioseach Brian Cowen today. The plans, outlined in a 170-page document, involve cuts to the social welfare budget and a hike in income tax. The Irish government hopes that they will make savings of €15 billion by 2014. The Taioseach said Ireland would have to “take some steps back to go forward again.”

“Postponing these measures will lead to greater burdens in the future for those who can least bear them, and will jeopardise our prospects of returning to sustainable growth and full employment. It’s a time for us to pull together as a people,” he said. The measures also entail tapping into the pension reserve fund to provide for infrastructure plans, and the loss of 24’000 jobs in the public sector over the four-year period.

These announcements come in the wake of negotiations with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund over a proposed financial aid package of around €90 billion euros. The austerity measures are considered key to ensuring the bailout goes through. They also mark an attempt by the beleaguered Brian Cowen to enforce his authority over an increasingly fractious government, as Ireland continues to suffer from social unrest. The decision to cut the minimum wage seems likely to lead to more protests, with the Mandate trade union leader claiming it will “will place those with the lowest incomes, including migrant workers, in an impossible situation”.

Ireland has seen a rash of protests over the last two years of financial recession. Measures in February 2009 aimed at stabilizing the economy brought 120’000 protesters onto the streets of Dublin. The plans to introduce fees for higher education have been constantly opposed and demonstrated against by the Union of Students in Ireland. Some protests have led to violence. A few days ago the office of the Transport Minister, Noel Dempsey, was attacked and sprayed with graffiti, and the arrival of IMF officials led to massive demonstrations outside government buildings.

Other countries across Europe have also seen explosions of anger and violence as the recession begins to affect daily lives. Portugal’s general strike against proposed austerity measures began at midnight, with worker participation of more than 75 percent. Union chief Joao Proenca said he considered it the biggest strike ever in Portugal.

It seems likely Irish workers will follow a similar route, with a major protest planned for Saturday the 27th in Dublin. Tens of thousands are expected to take to the street in protest over the cuts, but trade union secretary David Begg claimed the protests would be peaceful. “They just simply want to bring to the attention of the government that look, you have to be concerned with the citizens of the country, as well as the bond markets,” Begg said.

Protesters on the European Day of Action- from Informatique, http://www.flickr.com

 

Iconic tower to be demolished

by Fearghus Roulston

One of Edinburgh’s most striking landmarks is likely to disappear from the skyline, after council officials voted today to demolish the Granton gasholder. The 108-year old landmark was granted protected status just over a decade ago. The structure, which formed part of Edinburgh’s gasworks during the eighteenth century, has been deemed a potential safety hazard by the National Grid, who still own the property.

The council’s decision was made despite protests from heritage groups such as Historic Scotland. The gasworks were the biggest in Scotland for a time, and were in operation up until 1987. However, recent years have seen controversy over their future. A series of investigations have been made into the possibility of refurbishing the now defunct site. The Waterfront Edinburgh scheme, a blueprint for regenerating the Forth, suggested that they be transformed into ‘an exciting and contemporary structure’. The document also conceded that demolition was a possibility if no use could be found for the tower.

This prospect has edged closer, with the recent investigation claiming that refurbishing the structure and decontaminating the surrounding area could cost nearly seven million pounds. The report also highlighted the potential health and safety risks posed by the gasholder. If the plan to build a primary school in the area goes ahead, falling paint flakes could create a”significant risk of harm” to children. National Grid also warned of the increasing possibility that parts of the building could collapse.

Heritage groups have criticised this move on the part of the council and the National Grid. Euan Leitch, vice-chairman of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, expressed some of these criticisms in a guest blog on the Guardian website. “Preserving some examples of all periods of architecture”, he writes, “is vital in maintaining a dynamic historical record of our built environment”.

The councillor for Forth, Steve Cardownie, said: “It is synonymous with Granton but I’m not sure if anyone will miss it. It puts a stop to a lot of development in the area because it is quite big and it costs a lot to maintain”

A similar structure in Dublin was converted into housing in 2007, with more than 200 apartments. Although that project has been hailed as a huge success in the regeneration of the Dublin docklands, it appears little can be done to prevent the destruction of this reminder of Edinburgh’s industrial past. Historic Scotland recently submitted a proposal to the council, which stated that they “consider the Granton gasholder an important reminder of the circa 1900 gas industry and a landmark in Edinburgh’s industrial heritage.” Despite this appeal the demolition seems set to go ahead, although no definite date has been decided

One of the city's most striking landmarks

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Biggest budgets cuts for 50 years announced

By Fearghus Roulston

British Chancellor George Osbourne announced today that the government intends to take £80 billion out of the public sector budget over the next four years. Welfare, the Home Office, and local councils will face the brunt of the cuts, which are the biggest raft of cuts since the Second World War. One in twelve civil service jobs are expected to disappear. Overall, government departments not specifically exempt from the cuts will have their budgets reduced by 19 percent, despite fears before the Comprehensive Spending Review that they could be reduced by more than this.

The police budget will be reduced by 18 percent over the four years, with more focus being placed on terrorism. There will also be a clampdown on welfare fraud, which Mr. Osbourne claimed could save the government £5 billion. This comes along with the axing of child benefits for higher earners, announced at the Conservative Party Conference. Housing benefit is also to be slashed, saving £7 billion a year, but benefits for pensioners such as free television licenses will remain intact. The state pension age will be moved to 66 in 2020.

Explaining the austerity measures to MPs in the House of Commons, Mr Osborne said: “Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink, when we confront the bills from a decade of debt.”

He acknowledged the toll these measures would take on the public sector, and confirmed the figure of 490,000 job losses in coming years. However, cuts to the Scottish budget were not as severe as expected. Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney had warned of a £1.2 billion reduction, but the figure announced today was £900 million. The stringency of the measures drew criticism from across the political spectrum. Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Mr Osborne of taking an “irresponsible gamble with our economy and, indeed, many of the frontline services people rely on.”

SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie said: “George Osborne has pulled the rug from under recovery with these reckless cuts, and risks plunging the country back into recession.”

Avalanche Records Shuts Up Shop

Avalanche Records' old premises on Cockburn Street

By Fearghus Roulston

Cockburn Street’s iconic record store, Avalanche Records, closed its doors for the final time last night after a set from Leith band The Last Battle. The store has been a staple of the Edinburgh music scene since 1983. It is not closing permanently, however- owner Kevin Buckle plans to move to a larger space in the Grassmarket next month. The change in location is part of a wider scheme to reimagine the west end of the Grassmarket as an arts hub. Avalanche Records intends to collaborate with its new neighbours, Red Dog Music and The Lot, to create a new artistic scene in this corner of the city.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mr. Buckle explained his plans for the store, which has earned a lot of affection within the Scottish music scene for its persistent championing of local musicians. He said he intended to discuss future plans for the new premises with customers, and with other potential partners such as Analogue Bookshop.”It’s such a big space, there’s so much to do, there are so many options working.”

Mr. Buckle also enthused about the current state of the Scottish music scene. “People come from abroad especially to look for Scottish music…they used to go away with one or two records, now they go away with six, seven.”

The success of Avalanche Records suggests that the future for independent record stores lies in diversification and collaboration. After successfully curating gigs at the National Portrait Gallery, the store has been asked to curate similar events in Paris, Rome and Berlin. Despite the prevalence of digital media in the music scene, and the increasingly important role of the internet in disseminating music, places like Avalanche Records can adapt and flourish.

Jon Savage, the author of England’s Dreaming, explained the appeal of record stores in an interview with the Guardian music magazine. “The best record shops…offer an education and an arena. They bring people together rather than leave them atomised on the computer: you can meet like-minded souls, start a conversation, hear something that you’ve never heard before.” By moving to its new premises, Avalanche Records hopes to continue to offer an arena for independent Scottish music.

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