More than 50 Police Injured in Belfast Violence

More than fifty Northern Irish police officers were left needing medical attention after clashing with loyalist protestors on Friday night. Members of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) were pelted with bricks, masonry and other missiles as they patrolled the route of a controversial Republican parade held in central Belfast.

The march, which was approved by the body responsible for sanctioning marches in the six counties, the Parades Commission, had been expected to draw the attention of the loyalist community due to the highly controversial event it is held to commemorate.

It was held to remember two IRA volunteers who were killed 40 years ago when the explosives they were carrying to a site they intended to bomb, exploded accidentally in their car.

After the event, Northern Ireland’s chief constable Matt Baggot condemned the violence and challenged both Unionist and Nationalist politicians to behave as “statesmen” and not allow the rioting to affect the normal flow of politics.

“I know that 99 per cent, if not more, of the population will stand with me in utterly condemning those who scarred the reputation of our beautiful city last night,” Baggot told a packed press conference. “Those people had no intention of peaceful protest – they lack the self-respect, and they lack the dignity”.

Baggot, who confirmed that seven arrests had been made so far, issued a stark warning to the rest of the mob, warning that more arrests are to come and that the “prisons will be bulging” once the police have completed their investigation.

In all, fifty-six police officers were injured. Most injuries are believed to be minor. Two civilians were also injured.

The violence was also condemned by Theresa Villiers, Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “Last night’s violence and attacks on police officers were shameful. Disorder on the streets is a hugely regrettable step backwards,” she told media.

Parades are always a point of contention in Belfast, with both Republican and Loyalist events attracting troublemakers throughout the summer months, the period when most marches are held.

Last month, 12th of July celebrations – a Unionist holiday – saw Orangemen riot in the streets of Belfast, and again clash with police.

The violence comes one week after Belfast played host to thousands of police and fire personnel from around the world, who gathered in the Northern Irish capital to take place in the World Police and Fire Games.

Since the march on Friday, another Republican parade, this time in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, has passed off peacefully.

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Fermanagh G8 Summit Set to be Among Most Peaceful Ever

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called on all segments of the North’s population to ensure that this year’s G8 summit is remembered as the “most peaceful summit in G8 history”.

McGuinness, who was speaking on the lawn of 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and British Prime Minister David Cameron, said that he hopes “those people who are visitors to our country over the course of the next couple of days will respect the work to build the peace process that we have been engaged in for many years”.

Only a small scattering of protests have been held so far in the UK, with one high-profile raid last weekend leading to the detention of a handful of protesters in London, some 500km from the Lough Erne resort where this year’s summit is taking place. Smaller protests have been already taken place in Dublin and Belfast, both of which are reported to have ended without any violence or intervention from authorities, and although some protestors are expected to travel to Enniskillen – the town nearest to the resort – to protest in the next few days, the demonstrations are expected to pass off peacefully.

“My belief is its relatively small numbers would be wanting to cause trouble and the vast, vast sense of this is people wanting to protest peacefully,” commented Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Finlay. “The vast majority of people are from Nothern Ireland or the island of Ireland and they don’t want us being put on the map for the wrong reasons.”

Finlay explained that although a small number of dissidents, mostly republican, are planning to use the summit to highlight their cause, it is likely that the 8,000 plus police and 900 strong Garda contingent which will patrol the Monaghan and Cavan borders, will present a strong enough security presence to deter any attacks.

“The sad reality is the dissidents are there, they will want to draw attention to themselves, but usually in a way that is targeting people (PSNI officers) and will be away from where the essence of the strong security round an iconic figure like the President (Obama) would be,” Finlay said.

Although the primary concern for the PSNI and Garda is rogue dissidents, the forces will also be tasked with policing planned protests, most of which have followed proper procedure and informed the authorities of their intentions beforehand. While the protests are not likely to pose the same security risk as dichotomous republicans, organised protests, like London in 2005, when the G8 was held in Gleneagles, Scotland, and in Rome a few years later, prove that even planned marches can pose problems for the authorities.

Among the groups planning demonstrations in Enniskillen is the Socialist Workers Party, which is billing its march as an ‘anti-summit’. “There’s going to be a lot of different groups there,” commented People Before Profit’s Brian O’Boyle. “So you might have every group from charities to trade unions to radical left organisations to the environmentalists. They’ll all have their own specific focus.”

Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy added that he doesn’t think protesters will flock from all corners of Europe to march, as was the case in London and Rome, predicting that most will travel to Enniskillen from somewhere in Ireland.

Around 1,500 people turned out in Belfast earlier on Monday to take party in a march organised by the Northern branch of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Like the protests in Fermanagh, many of the attendees were far-left liberals, with Amnesty International, pro-Palestinian groups and the anti-fracking community also represented. Observers estimated that around 1,500 protesters attended the march, which passed off peacefully without need for any significant police presence — a feature which had been a staple of any Northern Irish protest until only a few years ago.

While many of the headlines surrounding the G8 will focus on the issues highlighted by protesters, the leaders congregating in Lough Erne will be penning deals and thrashing out policies aimed at resuscitating global economic growth. US president Barack Obama has already held bilateral talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin and David Cameron prior to the summit, and is widely expected to focus his attention of shoring up ties with Pacific powers Japan and China during his time in Co Fermanagh.

Although each of the powers and protestors has its own agenda, the largest benefactor of the talks is set to be the host, Northern Ireland, with as mentioned above, a high-profile investment package already approved by Westminster, and the news that Obama is ready to engage with Stormont on a deeper level, including creating the position of a permanent US envoy to the region – reason enough some commentators believe for protesters in the North to keep their anti-capitalist sentiment to themselves for the next week.

Is Cash Making a Comeback?

It has long been accepted that cashless payments are the future; and that before long currency will be superfluous, an archaic notion rendered obsolete by ways of paying viewed as safer and more convenient.

Since the century began cash usage has been on the decline as customers opted to pay for goods and services with plastic with greater frequency. Banks and other financial institutions anticipated the change in attitude in advance, and have been prepared for the switch to business conducted exclusively through electronic media for more than 20 years. Virtually any new bank account a customer opens today comes with a complimentary debit card – a provision that contributed greatly to the prevalence of digital payments over the last decade or so.

The switch to world where business is conducted solely through machines gathered pace at the turn of the millennium, but since, the showed signs of slowing, and last year reversed as more than half of all purchases in the UK were made by cash – a development that ended 10 years of gains by plastic. Last year, 54% of all transactions were conducted using cash, new research has revealed.

Although the reasons why more consumers are choosing to pay by cash have not yet been studied, the organisation that compiled the figures, the Payments Council, speculates that it may be partly because paying with cash allows us to keep a closer eye on our spending, while reports in the media suggest that wide ranging mistrust of banks – in particular their ability to handle our funds – may also have contributed, as a staggering £6,139 was withdrawn from bank machines around the UK every second last year.

The Payments Council, an independent organisation set up by the UK government in 2007 to monitor payment trends and consumer habits, says that the cash machine remains the most popular way for account holders to access their funds, and that last year the number of cash machines in the UK reached 66,000 – an all-time high.

“Cash is still a vital part of our day-to-day lives, and more than half of all our payments are in cash, reflecting its easy use and wide acceptance,” commented David Hensley, Head of Cash at the Payments Council. More than 20.8 billion transactions were carried out with currency in the UK last year, compared to 20.6 billion the year before, the newly published research has found.

The report comes shortly after a number of banks decided to reintroduce £5 to their cash machines – a move aimed at boosting the numbers of visitors to ATMs, and increasing the amount of money they withdraw. The idea was welcomed by customers across the board, and has led to calls from consumers outside the UK for similar steps to be taken in their countries.

“The UK is one of the few European countries whose cash machine network is still growing. We are currently seeing an increase in cash withdrawals, but the challenge is to make sure the UK’s cash machine network still provides a service that customers want in 10 and 20 years’ time,” explained John Howells, chief executive at Link ATM Network, the company that accommodates virtually all of the transactions between bank and building societies in the UK and their customers.

The resurgence of traditional cash payments comes despite new, more advanced payment technologies being rolled out by card makers and banks every year.  Most recently, a new “wave” contactless payment system was touted as the next big thing, however its release has fallen largely on deaf ears as consumers remain wary of new developments to technologies that can put their funds at risk. Conducting transactions by smartphone, a payment method introduced by many US retailers eager to cash in on young, tech savvy consumers, is a practice which has been gaining momentum in across the pond, but even as Barclays and other UK banks roll out their equivalent, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that the trend will catch on here.

Although the financial crisis, and perhaps more specifically the failure of Northern Rock — and the footage of customers queuing to rescue their money from the doomed bank — may have had an impact on consumers’ collective decision to move away from card dependency, events like last year’s Sony credit card fraud scandal, which left potentially millions of users’ personal and financial details exposed to online fraudsters, may also have made customers more wary of pulling out their card for every purchase.

Even though their customers have made their trepidations about digital payments clear, it is likely that banks will push back with more electronic options, largely because cash is expensive too for them to handle, and a switch to an exclusively digital set up would save them on millions of pounds on costs like transport, security and storage, expenses which many financial institutions regard as a nuisance.

Former British Soldier Tells How Prince Harry Saved him from Homophobic Attack

A former British soldier has revealed how Prince Harry stepped in to prevent a homophobic assault against him in 2008.

James Wharton, who was a 21-year-old British army Lance-Cpl at the time of the incident, tells in his new book “Out in the Army” how the royal, his tank commander during a training exercise in Alberta, Canada, confronted the group of six soldiers after a fearful Wharton had confided in him that he was afraid that he would be murdered by the men, who were from a rival regiment.

“I will always be grateful to Harry and I will never forget what happened,” Wharton, who told of how teary-eyed be was when he appealed to the prince for help, wrote. “Until he went over and dealt with everything I was on track for a battering.”

The 28-year-old prince, who was widely reported to have been moved to Alberta after his presence in Afghanistan was made public knowledge by a US newspaper six years ago, “wasn’t holding back” when he scorned the soldiers responsible for the attack, Wharton wrote. After warning the men that disciplinary measures could be taken if the attacks carried on, the prince informed senior officers of the incident, and told Wharton that the issue had been “sorted”.

Wharton said that he and Harry shared a tank for several weeks after the event, becoming friends.

Wharton remained in the army despite the threat of attacks and his fear that he might be “murdered by the infantry”, resigning earlier this year after a 10-year career.

The Labour Party’s Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said that Prince Harry ought to be praised for his efforts. “The whole country will applaud Price Harry – our forces should reflect the modern day Britain they fight so hard to defend,” he commented.

Sunderland Man Steals Roast Because it Reminded him of his Dead Grandmother

An unemployed father-of-eight from Sunderland has drawn attention to himself after telling a court in the UK that he stole a roast from an Asda store because it reminded him of his dead grandmother. 51-year-old John Casey told the court that he had to put the meat, on sale for £12 (roughly $18), in his rucksack because it kept prompting “flashbacks”.

Casey, from Washington, near Sunderland, was caught on camera putting the meat into his bag, and although he was aware of the evidence against him and admitted to taking the roast, he denied the charge of theft throughout saying that it was necessary to keep the meat out of sight in order to control the flashbacks.

“After I picked the meat up and was walking around the shop it was the blood in bag that was bringing it on,” Casey, who never told the police that it was because of the flashbacks that he put the meat in his rucksack, explained to the jury. “Everyday my grandmother is with me. I remember her. But this was not like any other. I was reliving it – it was like I was there with her again.”

After two days of proceedings heard by one of Newcastle Crown Court’s most distinguished judges, Judge Milford, Casey was convicted of the offence and handed a two-year conditional discharge.

After the trial, which cost the taxpayer an estimated £10,000 a day to run, Judge Milford told Casey that he will not be as kind to him again. “You have caused a huge amount of unnecessary expense to be incurred by electing trial and you have no means from which you can cover the costs of this expensive trial.” Normally minor theft cases would be held in lower courts without a jury, although defendants retain the right to have their case heard before a jury.

Casey said that he did not actually remember putting the beef in his bag and told the jury that it was a “dead cert” that he would not have shoplifted of his own volition.

Queen’s Awards get Competitive

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This year’s Queen’s Awards saw the highest standard of entries yet.

The most prestigious accolade of its kind, the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise celebrates the best and most innovative companies the United Kingdom has to offer. Handed out annually on the Queen’s Birthday, April 21, the awards recognise companies that have performed to the highest standard in the past year; traders and operators which hail from a wide range of industries and professions, from law and finance to farming and agriculture and beyond.

The awards are made on the advice of the Prime Minister personally after they are assessed by an advisory committee. Winners of the award are not chosen by industry, and instead are picked from a pool of entrants on their merits and level of success in doing business overseas – 25% of all applicants managed to secure the award this year, an unusually high percentage. This year’s awards recognised companies that excelled in three categories: International Trade, Innovation and Sustainable Development.

In all, 209 companies were recognised at this year’s award ceremony in April, all of which were judged to have performed with excellence throughout the past year. Of those winners, 151 were given the award for their achievements in international trade, a category which celebrates the achievements of British companies exporting and setting up abroad.

Aside from the honour of being chosen to receive the award – which took on special significance in this, the Jubilee year – winners receive a customary crystal bowl and invitation to a reception at Buckingham Palace as a reward.

Mark Prisk, who served as the Business and Enterprise Minister until the Prime Minister’s reshuffle in early September, praised the awards and its winners for their contribution to UK business and its interests overseas. “The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the highest accolade a business can receive. The standard of this year’s winners highlights the great work taking place by businesses of all sizes to help boost the growth of the UK economy. I hope that it will inspire more entrepreneurs to start or grow their business as we look to make 2012 the year of enterprise,” he said.

Aside from just recognising the good work performed by companies during the year, the awards also benefit the companies in their future pursuits, boosting recipients’ profile and confidence. In a survey of the winners carried out by the Queen’s Awards Magazine, 83% of winners said that they thought the award brought an element of prestige to their business; 79% said that it brought about an improvement in staff morale; 63% said that it attracted more press coverage; and 48% said that they believe it gave them an edge overseas.

Racelogic – Winners in Two Categories

One of the most successful companies at this year’s awards, Racelogic, which designs and manufactures electronic systems to record and analyse data from moving vehicles, agrees with the majority of the companies surveyed and believes that the award provided a great boost to the company and its staff.

“The largest benefit we gain from these awards is an enhanced UK profile, which is very useful when finding new suppliers and recruiting staff.  We have received congratulations from some of our UK customers,” explains Graham Mackie, Chief Executive at Racelogic, adding that despite its success, some of its international customers don’t quite understand the significance of the accolade.

Despite this the award still contributed to the company’s reputation and has helped it to develop more business ties. “We have continued to grow – developing new products and expanding sales into different territories.  In fact we have sold VBOX products into 8 more countries since we submitted the award,” Mackie explained. “It ratifies all of the hard work they all put in year in year out.  As mentioned above it has also helped with recruitment as we sometimes struggle, being out of a major city, to recruit qualified people – the awards show that we mean business and excel in what we do, making us a better looking employer.”

Racelogic, which also operates from a German operation in Weilburg, sells its products in 94 different countries worldwide and counts prestigious automotive names like Porche, Ferrari, BMW and Aston Martin among its customers.

Mackie, who led Racelogic to wins in both the International Trade and Innovation categories, said that he was unsure about his company’s chances in the latter, but that it deserved the win. “With good year on year growth figures and more than 90% of our sales being made outside the UK we were reasonably confident we would get an award for Export but the Innovation award was nice surprise.  Our LabSat product is unique in that it brings the world of GPS simulation down to a price that small and medium businesses can afford – allowing them to reliably test their GPS products, clearly the judges felt that this innovation was worthy of an award,” he explained.

Tecna Display – An Industry First

Another winner in the International Trade category is Tecna Display, a company renowned for its high quality portable and modular displays. It was the first exhibition display system ever to be given a Queen’s Award and proudly shows off the emblem on its website. “We have contacted all our overseas customers and they are all hugely impressed. The image of the Queen and the Royal family is also very prevalent at the moment because of the Jubilee celebrations, so this has added to our customer awareness worldwide. For Tecna Display to be recognised by the Queen’s Awards  for our efforts and exports is highly significant and establishes us as best in class in our industry worldwide,” commented Jonathan Evitt, Tecna Display’s Managing Director and the developer of its flagship T3 Modular Framing System.  

Evitt also believes that the award has given the company’s staff a boost, and says that its customers are seeing the company in a new light. “It was great. The workforce were incredibly proud. I’ve had special QA T-shirts produced which they all wear in the factory as a new production “uniform”. It’s been great for morale,” he jokes.

“It has given the company real credibility and I have noticed that our customers are treating us and the products with even more respect. It’s difficult to evaluate whether sales are to do with the award or because of other factors. I hadn’t realised how much respect the award creates until we won it.”

Evitt also explained that as a small company it’s very difficult to get any truly independent view of your business, saying that the Queen’s Awards does that and that it has given his him and his company a real sense of achievement that makes them feel that they are on the right track.

Up to its recognition at the Queen’s Awards, Tecna Display had been an extremely successful exporter, seeing the amount of products its sends abroad rocket by 92% in the last few years, something Evitt attributes to the company’s highly innovative range of products and its worldwide patents and design registrations.

“We have been extremely successful over the last few years with exports rising considerably, selling to more than 30 countries. We have ISO 9001, with a very strong quality control process and a lifetime guarantee on all our products,” Evitt explains.

“I also design all our products in house, using a product design company to “tweak” my designs and prepare the technical drawings.”

As a testament to the company’s success, Tecna display has been asked to supply the display walls for the official exhibitions at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills in Victoria and the northern exhibition for the winners and the award in Sheffield.

Bridge of Weir Leather Company – Four Time Winner

One firm that is no stranger to the Queen’s Awards is Bridge of Weir Leather. 2012 was the company’s fourth win at the awards, and was well deserved considering the boom in trade it experienced over the past year. “Bridge of Weir won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category for exactly that reason – ‘International Trade’”, explains Karen Marshall, Managing Director at Bridge of Weir Leather Company. “Our export sales growth has been remarkable over the last three years – with sales growing 150% during the period, and 90% of these sales made overseas.

 “This is the fourth time Bridge of Weir has been honoured in the Queen’s Awards and we like to think that it’s due to our tireless efforts to grow the business, develop the product, expand overseas and always with a very close eye on environmental impact.”

Specialising in automotive and contract design upholstery, Bridge of Weir leather exports to 60 countries worldwide. “Our unique brand of low carbon leather is down to the Thermal Energy Plant at Bridge of Weir – the only one of its kind in the world leather industry – that converts waste directly to energy at our manufacturing facilities and reduces our dependence on the grid for our energy – bringing benefits to both our customers and the environment,” explains Marshall.

 While most companies use the Queen’s Award to add an element of prestige to their business, Bridge of Weir has long been known as a premier leather producer, and was called upon in 1989 to reupholster the chairs and benches in the House of Commons and House of Lords. It still believes however, that the award can act as a powerful endorsement of its business.

We anticipate, as with our previous three Queen’s Awards, that our customer base will recognise the award as a very powerful endorsement of our business, product quality and progressive and environmentally responsible manufacturing techniques,” predicts Marshall. “The Queen’s Award is especially powerful overseas, and with much of our new business coming from international markets, this is a powerful endorsement of Bridge of Weir fine Scottish leather.”

 

Founded in 1905, the company – privately held by Scottish owners – has expanded to include major operations in the United States, Mexico, China, Germany and Australia, and expects its growth to continue in the coming year, backed by the award and the exposure it has provided the company.

“Continued growth through new business is certainly being supported by our latest Queen’s Award success.  Underpinning this growth is a brand new factory at Bridge of Weir which we opened in September, extending leather making facilities in Scotland which service our customers all over the world,” said Marshall. 

Marshall added that the presentation – made by the Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire – was an extremely proud moment for the company and its employees, saying that it is a very exciting time to be at the company.

It also marked the start of production at our new factory, which is a new state-of-the-art working environment for many at the company.  The new factory will accommodate design, laser etching, embossing, lamination, perforation, cutting, sales, training, product presentations and showrooms, packaging, warehousing and international despatch facilities,” she said.

“The new £2 million factory is now fully operational, supplying leather to automotive brands globally, including Aston Martin, Ford, Fisker, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes AMG, Volvo and others. 

Aside from the automotive industry, Bridge of Weir also supplies leather to companies in the aviation, marine and hotel and leisure industries.

Other Scottish Leather Group customers (Bridge of Weir’s parent company), will also benefit from the new leather manufacturing facilities, including Hilton Hotels, FirstGroup, British Airways, Emirates Airline and many others.”

“It is a very exciting time to be at Bridge of Weir,” added Marshall.

Another company that earned a Queen’s Award was Morningside Pharmaceuticals. Founded by its current chief executive Dr Nik Kotecha and his wife. Morningside, based in Loughborough, Leicestershire, manufactures a wide range of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and said it believes it won the award because of a substantial and continuous record on exports over the last six years.

“Twenty years ago, Morningside Pharmaceuticals was launched with the vision of giving people worldwide access to the healthcare they so desperately needed at a price they could afford. Today, I’m delighted that not only are we achieving this goal, but that we have received recognition for our success in the form of a Queen’s Award, the most prestigious business award in the UK,” said Kotecha,

Morningside exports more than 60% of its products to over 80 countries worldwide. It has managed to drum up business from 54 new customers in the last three years alone.

“Without our high standards of quality backed up by levels of customer service that are second to none, we simply couldn’t have achieved our export success, so I would like to say a big thank you to all our staff. This award is a reflection of their hard work and commitment.”

The Queen’s Award was followed by another trade award in May, this time at the Leicestershire Business Awards. It was also a finalist for the Leicestershire Business of the Year 2012 award.

Outside of the International Trade category, 50 awards were presented to companies for their innovation in business and eight were awarded for their efforts at sustainable development. 11 individuals also claimed an award, the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion, which recognises their efforts to foster entrepreneurial skills among businesspeople.

The awards have been held every year since 1966, and were first established as the Queen’s Award to Industry. Past categories include Technological Achievement, Environmental Achievement and Export Achievement.

Aside from receiving the accolade itself and a visit from a royal representative, winners of the award were invited to showcase their products at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in September.

In order to be eligible to receive an award a company must have at least two full-time employees, be a self-contained enterprise and be able to demonstrate commercial success. Candidates can be based anywhere in the UK, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. Unfortunately for a company intending to enter next year’s awards, nominations for the 2013 edition ended in September.