2018 In Review:

Year in Review: February brought promises of jobs, tourists, cash for Portlaoise and snow

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

February: Promises of jobs, tourists, cash for Portlaoise and snow

Belles at the 2018 Laois Hunt Ball in February. Picture: Alf Harvey

The rebranding of Laois as a tourist destination was announced in the Laois Tourism Strategic Plan 2018-23 in February.
It aims to create 300 new jobs in tourism over the five years. Laois has the third lowest tourist income in Ireland.

The first sign of a problem for Laois community CCTV schemes came this month, when Laois County Council CEO John Mulholland said at a meeting that he had “serious concerns” for his staff's security over the requirement that local authorities must be the data controllor for schemes.

“I need reassurances from the dept that no staff will be liable to appear in court,” he said. The issue is still unresolved almost a year later.

There was an increase in births at Portlaoise hospital, 3% more than expected by the HSE, to 1,531 babies in 2017 as parents' confidence returned. The unit had been placed under the stewardship of the Coombe after the baby deaths controversy in 2014.

A week later, a new investigation into faulty heartbeat monitors at Portlaoise and 11 other hospitals raised doubts over the HSE's handling of an equipment recall requested by the manufacturer in 2009. The subsequent deaths in Portlaoise confirmed issues with the trace equipment but it was still not examined during a 2014 investigation.

The search was launched for the Laois Rose 2018, with reigning Rose Maeve Dunne advising young women to “go for it”.
Portlaoise was chosen to be a pilot town for an urban regeneration project, a multi million investment in the town.

It is listed in the government's Project ireland 2040 plan, along with a new courthouse and a new 40 bed mental health facility.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan welcomed it as “a step in the right direction to achieve a brighter vibrant future for Portlaoise”.

The chiefs of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland visited Laois mid month, and promised to up their game to create jobs here. Enterprise Ireland supports 55 companies in Laois with 1473 employees, but IDA Ireland supports just two, 119 workers in total.

Action was demanded of Gardaí and the council by Portarlington councillors on behalf of locals over Travellers “misbehaving, making threats and intimidating people” in the town. An unofficial site on the Canal Road was a major concern.

The Laois Traveller Action Group pointed out that the number of halting sites in Laois has been cut, and said Travellers were worst hit by the housing crisis because of high discrimination against them.

In late February came the forecast for the “beast from the east”, with Met Eireann ready to issue Status Red warnings for snow, and Laois County Council “preparing for the worst” with snowploughs ready for action.

“It is hard to fathom that at this time of year,” CEO John Mulholland said.

A Severe Weather Crisis Management team gathered on February 26, including the council, Gardaí, HSE, fire service and Civil Defence, to plan actions as snow-ice warnings came into force.