Friday, November 30, 2012

Leveson condemns press on McCanns

In his report proposing stricter regulation of the British press, Lord Justice Leveson cited what he called “outrageous” newspaper stories about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann while on holiday in the Algarve in 2007.
This comes a year after Kate and Gerry McCann made an impassioned plea for tougher press control when they gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry. In doing so last November, they spoke at length of their treatment by the British tabloids. They said they found some of the stories published about them “disgusting” and “offensive.”
Kate McCann said she felt “totally violated"  when the News of the World published her personal diary in which she recorded very private thoughts about her missing daughter. The diary, which had been seized and copied by the Portuguese police, was leaked to the Murdoch tabloid. The paper showed “absolutely no respect for me as a grieving mother,” she told the inquiry. She said she felt like “climbing into a hole and not coming out.” 
Leveson heard how the Daily Express reported there was DNA evidence to show Madeleine’s body had been stored in the spare tyre well of a hire car. It turned out that this allegation was baseless. An analysis conducted in the UK was “inconclusive.” Express Newspapers paid £550,000 damages to the McCann’s in 2008 for inaccurate reporting by the Daily Express and the publisher’s three other titles.
In a relatively small but striking section of his massive report, Leveson devoted almost 12 pages to the McCann family, noting that some papers were “guilty of gross libels” against them. He mentioned in particular the Daily Star, which ran a headline claiming the “hard up” McCanns had sold their daughter.
Whatever many people in Portugal may think about the behaviour of the McCanns as parents at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance, and regardless of the belief among many in this country that somehow they may have been involved, the fact of the matter is they must be presumed to be innocent. In legal terms, the presumption of innocence is the same in Portugal as it is in Britain.
In addition to the McCanns, many other innocent people were caught up in the press frenzy over Madeleine’s disappearance. The investigating Polícia Judiciária were crudely smeared. Individuals in Praia da Luz and elsewhere in the Algarve were directly accused or indirectly harmed by grossly insensitive, inaccurate or totally fabricated stories.
Whatever tougher regulations emerge from the debate now going on in the UK about what form the regulations should take, it is unlikely - thanks to Leveson - that British newspapers will get away with such crassness in future.
The agony of bringing about stricter regulation of the print press in Britain - self-imposed or with statutory underpinning - is just the tip of the iceberg.
Freedom of expression is a precious ideal, but innocent people continue to be widely abused in the digital world, often in the most vitriolic of terms by ranters hiding behind anonymity or pseudonyms. Facebook and Twitter fantasists and fanatics – or barmy bloggers - can carry on blurting out whatever they like with little fear of punishment.
In suggesting that bloggers might like to join his proposed new regulatory system, Leveson noted that some have called the Internet a “wild west." He preferred to think of it as an “ethical vacuum.”  
Those are not outrageous comments. They are probably understatements. The “vacuum” does not look like being filled any time soon - and the “west” is almost certainly going to get wilder. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Time for decisions on Salgados lagoon

In spite of recent torrential rains, the lagoon at Salgados has been empty for nearly two weeks. There is even less water in it now than when the environmental protest campaign got underway at the end of spring. Unlike then, however, the dryness now is normal and not a cause for concern.
When coastal lagoons like Salgados become overfull after heavy rains in autumn or winter, they break out and empty into the sea naturally. It is important that this happens so that the lagoons do not become overladen and eventually overwhelmed by sediments. Usually after 10 days or so of dryness, the basins refill with a mixture of freshwater and seawater. This natural, refreshing process is what is happening right now at Salgados.
It does not mean that all is well there. Far from it. If this popular birdwatching site is to become a stable sanctuary, two things need to be done quickly.
First, the Secretary of State for the Environment must decide, based on advice from the Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente, if an environmental impact study is to be carried out before construction is allowed to begin on the proposed tourist development between Salgados and Praia Grande. An impact study is mandatory in law when a new 18-hole golf course is planned.  In this case the development company may be hoping for a legal loophole. It is believed it has opted to build not a single 18-hole course but two 9-hole courses.  If such a plan circumvented the requirement of an impact study, it would, of course, be preposterous and strenuously opposed by NGO environmental groups. The Secretary of State is expected to make an announcement shortly.
The second urgent matter is to implement an agreed conservation management system so that the water level in the lagoon is under control at all times, especially during the breeding season. Such a system was agreed back in 2008 between all the parties involved in protracted negotiations aimed at protecting Lagoa dos Salgados.
As intended then, water is now being fed into the lagoon from a new, nearby sewage treatment plant. But the agreement to incorporate an overflow system to prevent flooding of the existing Salgados golf course has not yet been implemented. The stumbling block back in 2008 was who should pay for it.
The problem has been compounded by a major inadequacy in Albufeira’s sewage disposal. It is said that as much as 25% of Albufeira’s waste water is at present deposited straight into the sea near the mouth of the lagoon. The plan is to channel this waste through a pipeline to the Salgados treatment plant. It is a separate and much more costly project, but for practical purposes it would have to be carried out in tandem with the management plan. The combined costs would be well over €1 million. The question remains, where is the money going to come from?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Getting high on ‘bath salts’ sold online

While Portugal has been written off by the media around the world as an economic basket case, there is widespread acclaim for the courageous initative taken by this small country in tackling the scourge of addictive drugs.  A report just released in Lisbon, however, makes it clear that Chinese ‘entrepreneurs’ are revitalising and expanding the international narcotics trade. Young people are being exposed to drugs more than ever.
In 2001, Portugal decriminalised the use of all drugs, including cocaine and heroin as well as marijuana and amphetamines. Possession of more than 10 doses, defined by weight for each drug type, was considered dealing and still very much a crime. Possession of up to 10 daily doses for personal use was still illegal but not punishable as a crime. Instead, it was considered a public order offence - a health problem to be dealt with by counselling sessions or appropriate treatment in special centres.
More than a decade on, is the system working? Most say it is a resounding success. Others claim it has been a complete failure.
The diverse views may be due at least in part to researchers using insufficient data to promote biased preferences for promoting, or blocking, law reform elsewhere.
No one is arguing that the system is perfect. For example, the use of marijuana is still commonplace in the Algarve, especially among teenagers and young adults – and joints nowadays are far stronger than those of yesteryear.
On the other hand, before decriminalisation was introduced, fears were expressed that it might backfire and produce an upsurge in drug abuse and even turn Portugal into a drug tourist haven. That does not seem to have happened.
While the number of people receiving treatment has risen, drug-related court cases have dropped dramatically - and so too have the number of drug-related HIV cases due to sharing dirty needles.
Placing the focus on health rather than crime does not seem to have added to the country’s economic woes either. Expenditure has been transferred from the justice department to the health services.
A number of countries have tentatively introduced the pro-active decriminalisation approach. Even the mighty United States is coming around to following in Portugal’s footsteps.  After 40 years, many analysts in America realise that the ‘war on drugs’, which to date has cost a trillion dollars, is simply not working.
Alarmingly, China has now entered the fray big time. The European Union’s drug monitoring agency based in Lisbon has announced that, for the third consecutive year, a record number of new synthetic substances known as “legal highs” are now available via the Internet. Most are produced in China and to a lesser extent India.
These psychoactive substances are marketed under innocent sounding labels such as ‘bath salts,’ ‘plant food’ and ‘research chemicals,’ but they reproduce the effects of traditional illegal drugs.  
The number of online ‘head shops’ selling Europe’s 10 most popular ‘legal highs’ doubled in twelve months and at last count stood at 759, according to the agency’s latest voluminous report. More than one new psychoactive drug is coming on to the market each week.
Traffickers of cocaine, heroin and other traditional addictive drugs are now facing growing competition from what the agency calls “opportunistic entrepreneurs” pedalling synthetic alternatives, which have the potential for wider and easier distribution.
As if coping with drugs has not been hard enough in the past, this new fast moving market is posing fresh challenges.
For more information:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Oonagh Swift: a colourful, cultured life

13 May 1929 – 25 October 2012

Oonagh Swift, who has died in the Algarve at the age of 83, was a cultured, charismatic and quintessentially Irish figure beloved by people of many nationalities.
While her life in Ireland, London and Portugal was steeped in the arts and literature, many will remember her for her beauty and her mischievous smile.
Born in Dublin, she was the third youngest of eight children of Séamus Ryan and Agnes Ryan, née Harding, from County Tipperary. They christened her Agnes Mary, but Oonagh, a Gaelic variation of Agnes, is the name that caught on from an early age.
Her parents were Republican activists during the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921. Her father, a successful, self-made businessman, was a totally committed member of the then fledgling Fianna Fáil party, a senator in De Valera's government and an active supporter of the old IRA.
The best known of her siblings were John Ryan, an artist, man of letters and an influential figure in bohemian Dublin in the 1940s and 50s, and Kathleen Ryan, a famous Irish film actress who appeared in British and Hollywood films between 1947 and 1957. Another brother, Séamus, became a Benedictine priest. Her older sister, Cora, married an Irish politician, Sean Dunn. A younger sister, Íde, became a nun, scholar and author.
After education in Dublin and finishing school in London, Oonagh spent a year in Belgium learning French. She met a Belgian linguist and literary scholar, Prince Alexis Guédroitz, whom she later married in Dublin when she was only 18. They spent time together in Brussels, Paris and Saint Tropez, returning to Dublin for the birth of their daughter, Ania.
It was in Dublin, after her separation from Prince Alexis, that she met the aspiring Irish artist Patrick Swift who would become her second husband. Through Patrick, she came to know the likes of writers Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Brian O’Nolan, John Jordan, John McGahern and artists Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and Nano Reid. Brendan Behan was also a friend but, ironically, Oonagh had first met him through Alexis.
In 1954, Oonagh accompanied Patrick on a study visit to Italy, returning to Dublin the following year to give birth to their first child, Kate. On moving to London, the Swifts became further ensconced in creative bohemian life. The French House and the Coach and Horses pubs in Soho were popular meeting places for some of the most innovative artists and writers of the day. So was their flat in Westbourne Terrace W2 where Oonagh was able to feed the hungry, if not sate the gargantuan avante-garde thirsts. Frequent visitors included the South African-born poet David Wright with whom Patrick founded the quarterly review of literature and the arts, X magazine.
Dublin and London were the Swifts’ main stamping grounds throughout the 1950s and into the 60s, but then they chose a totally new working and family environment. In 1962, while still in their thirties, they pitched up in the remote and almost unheard of fishing village of Carvoeiro. It would remain their home for the rest of their lives.
As one of the first expatriate families in the Algarve, the Swifts totally embraced and integrated into the local community in a way few foreigners do nowadays. Their many Portuguese friends ranged from the humblest of village folk to leaders such as Francisco de Sá Carneiro who became Portugal’s prime minister.
Patrick and Oonagh established a pottery near the village of Porches with a renowned Portuguese artist, Lima de Freitas, who many years later would become the minister of culture in Lisbon. Their first studio was in a 17th-century cottage. It was there that they first applied old designs and motifs to handmade ceramic plates and panels. The revival of a dying craft turned into a small business. As demand from residents and visitors increased, the studio moved into larger premises close by.
After Patrick’s death in 1983, Oonagh managed Porches Pottery for more than 20 years, employing and training a considerable number of local craftswomen and building up a high reputation internationally. The creative side of the business was led by her daughter Kate, an outstanding artist in her own right, until Kate’s untimely death in 2004. Upon retirement, Oonagh was able to hand over control of the business to her two younger daughters, Juliet and Stella.
In 1987, Oonagh married David Wright, whose wife had died two years after Patrick. David, a prolific author and editor as well as a poet, had co-written with Patrick three books on Portugal: Algarve (1965), Minho and North Portugal (1968) and Lisbon (1971). Oonagh was very much involved in all three publications having previously written a book herself with the Canadian poet and novelist Elizabeth Smart. It was a book on French cookery contained 400 recipes “to add pleasure and variety to English mealtimes.”
Throughout the intellectually and culturally glittering years, the Swift home near Carvoeiro was a meeting place for a rotating cast of overseas visitors from the world of painting, literature and photography. The conversation and the laughter, like the wine, always flowed copiously. Music came into it too. Even in her more sedentary years, Oonagh had a wonderful voice. In addition to Irish songs, she would perfectly accompany recordings by Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.
After David died in 1994, there was a saying that if a book were written about Oonagh it should be called ‘The Prince, the Painter and the Poet.” That sort of jibe appealed to her keen sense of humour. She was often heard to come out with banter like, “he’s as blind as a bat flying through a thunderstorm.”
A lover of life to the full and an avid reader of everything from European classics to the latest bestsellers, until the very end Oonagh would quote from memory such poets as Yeats and Auden with a glass of wine in her hand and a twinkle in her eye.
The funeral service was held in the parish church at Porches.
Oonagh is survived by her daughters: Juliet (pictured left), Stella and Ania (right).