Ireland readies 'mega' no-deal Brexit legislation package

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland will begin pushing through a “mega” package of legislation next month to deal with the fallout from a no-deal Brexit if there is still a prospect of Britain leaving the European Union without a divorce deal in March.

Ireland’s cabinet on Tuesday began to build upon the no-deal contingency plans it issued last month by seeking to reassure business of the availability of additional transport capacity and patients of the security of medicine supplies.

Its preparations will be underpinned by one single emergency Brexit bill incorporating 17 new laws that Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney will, if required, begin moving through parliament in the final week of February.

“We don’t want to have to do this of course, nobody wants a no-deal Brexit and everybody will work towards avoiding that but we also have to ensure that Ireland has done everything it can to protect itself and its citizens,” Coveney told a news conference.

To allow officials to make preparations, the government will prioritise just six new proposed laws in other areas in the first half of the year compared to the 49 pieces of legislation given priority during the same period last year.

As part of Tuesday’s plans, the Transport Ministry said sufficient capacity will be available for direct sailings from Ireland to continental EU ports as a potential alternative for the large amount of goods transited through the UK.

Should demand for further capacity arise, the shipping sector can respond quickly to meet it, it added.

However the department also said the scale of checks required in a no-deal Brexit would likely result in delays for goods moving through Irish ports, requiring measures to prevent congestion.

The plans again did not touch on the central issue for Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit: How it can defend the single market without imposing physical infrastructure on its border with the British province of Northern Ireland.

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Transport Minister Shane Ross told the news conference he anticipated that there would be checks, but was interrupted by Coveney who said the best way to deal with the border issue was through the draft agreement struck by Brexit negotiators.

“There are a number of areas where we haven’t published contingency plans, not least because people are voting this evening on how to deal with this issue,” Coveney said, speaking before British lawmakers resoundingly defeated the deal.

“If Britain leaves without a deal, well then we obviously have to have difficult discussions with the European Commission and the UK in terms of how we protect the EU single market but we have deliberately not got into that detail because we have a way of dealing with this.”

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Lorraine Courtney: 'The big picture is that women have never had it so good'

Women in Ireland have never had it so good. I’m not saying we can’t have it better, but in the whole of Irish history there’s never been a better time than now to be a woman.

RTÉ’s recent series ‘The Big Picture – A Woman’s World’ examined what it is to be a woman in Ireland in 2018. But too often when we talk about women and women’s issues, we only focus on the negative. It’s even worse if you go online as we seem to be increasingly shaped by social media, our new, enabling, worst friend.

This is not only lazy and irresponsible, and bound to make young Irish women far more fearful and angry than they need to be – it is also insulting to the women facing incredible hardship in other countries around our world.

This mightn’t be the PC thing to say right now, but it’s true. Irish women have never been in a stronger position in society than today. Change has happened. Slowly but surely, small steps built into a new reality. There’s more work to be done, but our little country has transformed.

We have more choices than our mothers and grandmothers could have even dreamt about. They lived in a world where contraception and divorce were banned and there were no State supports for single parents.

They weren’t allowed to get a restraining order against a violent husband and rape wasn’t a crime within marriage. They lived under the marriage bar (where women had to leave their public service jobs when they got married). And the notion of a female Irish President seemed as likely as a unicorn flying over the Áras.

Here we are in 2018, standing on the shoulders of the brave and brilliant women who paved the way for us, women such as Nell McCafferty, June Levine and Mary Kenny.

They mobilised and campaigned – their movement’s finest hour came with their trip from Dublin to Belfast, which became known as the Contraceptive Train, to buy contraception and bring it back across the Border. Every day I try to be aware of the privileges they won for us and the tools we have been given.

Most of the old forms of discrimination, the old sexist barriers to study and academic success, have been removed. Girls are outperforming boys in our schools.

In this summer’s Leaving Cert, girls secured a higher proportion of top grades – H1s, H2s and H3s, or 70-100pc – in 34 out of 40 subjects at higher level. We’re doing better in universities too and the gender pay gap has closed for workers in their twenties.

The marriage bar was lifted long before we were even born and women were freed from the kitchen sink to do whatever we want including, of course, staying at home if that’s what we choose to do.

Huge strides have been made to improve the treatment of women in the workplace and I am so grateful to have been provided opportunities denied to previous generations of women, being able to spend time with my family and travel, while still working in a very rewarding job.

We have a higher life expectancy than men – four years higher. We have multiple orgasms, hair straighteners and more female TDs than ever before.

Third wave feminism has ebbed and flowed since the 90s, but in the past year or two the wave has been more like a tsunami. Feminism is one of the loudest social movements around. We’re pretty much drowning in calls for equality, seeing as everyone from Hozier to Simon Harris is a feminist these days.

Granted, things are still far from perfect for women (and men) in Ireland. There’s some more work to be done but I’m very optimistic. Now, instead of always wallowing in victimhood and negativity, let’s take a moment to recognise how good we have it today.

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The story of Ireland's would-be astronauts and the space shuttle that never took off

Twenty-seven years after they set off to join the space race, Ireland’s four would-be astronauts were reunited in Dublin recently, a little older, but still doing what they were doing when they were recruited for the European Space Agency project in 1991.

Willie Butler, originally from Kilkenny, was a captain with Aer Lingus, then and now. Kevin Barry from Dublin, who was a captain in the Air Corps, is now with Virgin Atlantic. Professor Ciaran Bolger, also a Dubliner and then a junior doctor, is now a neurosurgeon with Trinity College and Beaumont Hospital. And Deirdre McMahon, also a medic, originally from Belfast, is now an anaesthetist living outside Paris.

As they recalled six months of having hot and cold water poured into their ears, withstanding blood-curdling G-forces and endless psychological tests, Deirdre McMahon recalled that they got on well “because we had the gift of the gab – we were more sociable that most of the other European candidates”.

The four were picked to compete with hopefuls from around Europe for a place on the proposed European Space Agency’s ‘Hermes’ project, a space shuttle that would put the continent into the space race with the USA and the then USSR.

“It was our first hope for Ireland to have its very own astronaut in space,” recalled Dr Niamh Shaw, of the Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork, who began the quest to find out what happened to Ireland’s only space mission.

She tracked down the four intrepid space travellers through old newspaper clippings and an appearance on RTE’s Saturday-night TV programme, Kenny Live. The scientist and space enthusiast then spent four years trying to find the intrepid four, who were identified from hundreds of wannabe space enthusiasts as having “the right stuff”.

“They just disappeared from public view, as did their incredible story,” she says. Eventually “desperate for help” she made a public plea on RTE Radio One’s The Ryan Tubridy Show last February, and, within days, found out where they were and what they were doing.

They were finally reunited at an event in the Royal College of Surgeons last Thursday night, where they spoke about their experience for the first time.

All four recalled their varying reactions to seeing an advertisement in the newspapers, placed by Dr Ann Saunderson of the government-backed science and technology agency Eolas, for Irish candidates to take part in the European Space Agency’s Hermes project.

For Deirdre McMahon and Willie Butler, it was “the dream of a young kid brought up on Apollo” to go into space. Kevin Barry said he was “really keen” while Ciaran Bolger had a nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude. There were 700 applications in all, and the four were selected from 250 candidates.

“When we got to Cologne in Germany and met the others, we found that they looked on you as a competitor – we were just sociable and enthusiastic,” says Ciaran Bolger.

They described the rigorous and invasive testing that went on for months.

Ireland was only contributing 0.05pc of the space programme’s budget, and the Irish candidates realised their chances were diminishing rapidly when the French and Germans brought in highly qualified pilots from their own astronaut programmes.

Although the Irish were the most successful group on the panel and were included in the final shortlist, none of them made the final cut.

“I was very annoyed at the time,” recalls pilot Kevin Barry, “but then I had to do a flight for the Air Corps in the afternoon and I just got on with it.” Deirdre McMahon was ruled out because of a minor heart issue.

“Willie [Butler] and I got through to the very end, but it was clear to me we were never going to be selected; it was pre-determined for other nationalities,” said Ciaran Bolger.

Ultimately, the Hermes programme was cancelled because it turned out to be too expensive although some of those they trained with did go to space when the European Space Agency began co-operating with the Russians on the International Space Station programme.

Dr Niall Smith, of the CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork, told last week’s gathering that billionaires were now replacing national agencies as financiers of space exploration.

He told an enthralled audience that Ireland is an ideal place to launch ‘space tourism’ – but even more importantly, that the government should be looking at the possibility of ‘space broadband’.

“Instead of digging up every road and boreen, they need to use space technology; it already exists, and Irish companies could get involved,” he said.

For the four Irish astronaut hopefuls it was a dream never to be fulfilled, but when they were reunited they had plenty to talk about and the intervening 27 years showed that they had lost none of the gregarious good humour that carried them through a difficult, if fruitless, space mission.

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How Dr Khaldi went from maths academic to biotech trailblazer

Dr Nora Khaldi has made a successful transition from academia to one of Ireland’s most exciting young entrepreneurs.

Her company, Nuritas, became the first Irish biotech company backed by the European Investment Bank when it made a €30m loan to the Dublin-based entity.

Dr Khaldi is a mathematician with a PhD in molecular evolution and bioinformatics from Trinity and a masters degree in mathematics from the Université Aix-Marseille in France.

Ireland has a competitive advantage in high value food production, exports are worth €12.5bn, a 10th of the overall total of €122bn in 2017.

Kerry Group alone, which started from a greenfield site in Listowel over 40 years ago, is now a food giant with a market capitalisation in excess of €16bn.

Marry the economic heft to a vibrant start-up scene and you have the potential for the kind of economic growth and jobs that can shift Ireland from being the low-tax option for multinationals to a genuine innovator.

Nuritas was founded in 2014 and uses artificial intelligence, deep learning and DNA sequencing to look at the trillions of molecules that make up food with the aim of improving health and longevity. According to Dr Khaldi, “bioinformatics was the perfect field as it combined my passions of mathematics, biology and computer science”.

As evidenced by her academic career, science is not just a matter of turning up and turning on the computer for easy answers. It requires discipline and dedication.

“Science projects are usually new and you can’t just google to find an answer. It’s a tough area, and if you are not 100pc committed it’s a very competitive and hard area to develop in,” Dr Khaldi says on her profile at Trinity.

It also equips you for a life in business. “Anyone that comes and tells you a scientist is not an entrepreneur are off their head,” she told Dublin’s annual technology, science, design and arts get-together, Inspirefest, in 2016.

The line-up of investors in Nuritas reads like a who’s who of Silicon Valley, with the likes of Ali Partovi and Mark Benioff. This being the goldfish bowl that is Dublin, there’s a sprinkling of local stardust with Bono and The Edge also in the pool, adding to the company’s profile here.

For Dr Khaldi, it is not about showbiz, it is about marrying hard science to the needs of society – particularly an ageing one in which one in five people will be over the age of 60 by 2050.

With such a dramatic shift in population, it was clear to Dr Khaldi that the “old pharma” model of drug development – a decade or more of development and an average spend of $2.6bn to get a product to market – needed to change.

Nuritas uses big data techniques to discover peptides – molecules in food and food by-products – that can be used in supplements and new drugs. It says it can find these peptides 10 times faster and 500 times more accurately than more traditional methods, while significantly reducing costs.

In November, it launched PeptAIde, the world’s first bioactive ingredient discovered and delivered through AI which is being brought to the market by BASF.

The plaudits look set to keep on coming for Dr Khaldi. She has already garnered the ‘Woman of the Decade in Business and Leadership Award’ from the Women Economic Forum-European Union, along with many others.

Aged 40 and born in Algeria to a French father and an Irish mother, Dr Khaldi still has time for some hobbies.

They include drawing, painting, rollerblading, dancing and swimming, although you are unlikely to see her taking a dip in the sea off Dublin, as she says it is “a little too cold in Ireland”.

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Gerard O’Regan: 'Two managers facing into a long goodbye won't help our sporting chances'

What are we going to do at all, at all, if the Republic of Ireland soccer team, managed by Mick McCarthy, wins the European Championships in two years’ time?

That sure would be some scenario. Mick having to walk the plank, having brought the Boys in Green to glory. After all, that’s the key to his new contract. Whatever will be his achievements, he is gonesville. Regardless of how his team perform in the Euros – should they qualify – it will not matter a whit.

OK, pigs will indeed fly before we win a major international soccer tournament.

But fantasising about dreams unfulfilled does focus attention on how Mick McCarthy is already manacled in his role as manager.

He has the full confidence of his FAI masters. But only for a while. He is charged with getting us to those Euro finals.

But even if he brings about a mini-revolution in the parlous state of Irish football, he will still be shown the door, given the agreed pre-ordained date for his dismissal.

On paper, his planned replacement, Stephen Kenny, has made his mark on the domestic league. And giving Kenny charge of the international under-21 team in the interim provides for a good apprenticeship.

But we cannot forget that schemes that look good on paper can swiftly unravel once the rigours of real life set in.

The recruitment of the once-dubbed ‘dream team’ of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane had so many dizzy with expectation.

Yet for some reason or other, the O’Neill-Keane dynamic inexplicably ran out of pizzazz. And that’s the very quality we thought would be the hallmark of their reign. Their best-laid plans floundered, ending in a humiliating departure.

So, now all depends on the second coming of McCarthy. He is a journeyman manager in the best sense of that term – his achievements are considerable in getting the most out of middle-of-the-road footballers.

The aura surrounding the international team is dire – so he must now prove himself as something of a messiah.

Things surely cannot get any worse. Should he fail to get us to the Euros, the fall-out for the finances of the FAI will be catastrophic.

There is an irony that soccer bosses here should cleave to the tried and tested McCarthy persona in their hour of desperate need. Overall, he did the business in previous lives, both as a player and manager. We can wipe out memories of certain not-so-good times when he was at the helm.

However, the old F Scott Fitzgerald maxim – you can’t repeat the past – retains a lingering resonance. In a sense, in the twilight of his managerial career, he is being challenged to travel back in time. The mission statement is simple. Bring back glory days of yore when the Boys in Green warmed our hearts.

But all the while there remains that niggling feeling. If he is the man for the job, why has such a strict time limit been placed on his tenure? Surely he should have been given the chance to do or die depending on his achievements.

For any manager in top-flight sport, the world should be their oyster. Anything should be possible. The sky should be the limit.

The thin line dividing success and failure is so often bound up with subtlety and nuance. In certain roles, a sense of destiny determines almost everything. McCarthy should have been recruited as more than a stop-gap manager.

On another front, Joe Schmidt – certainly one of the most influential and charismatic figures in the history of Irish sport – will depart following the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

Would it not have been better if he had delayed the announcement of his leave-taking until after Ireland had played their last game?

Remaining inscrutable on this issue would protect his authority and considerable presence. Donning the mantle of ‘the manager who is heading for an exit door’ can never be the ideal. McCarthy is carrying the same burden.

Both men have big mountains to climb before they say goodbye. It’s a pity we don’t have the exhilaration of not knowing when their stories will end. But then again, who can say for certain what the future holds. For anybody.

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Farming under threat as soil fertility falls 40pc in 10 years –

Ireland’s fields have suffered a 40pc drop in fertility in just a decade, sparking concerns for the future of our world-renowned farming industry.

The worrying trend is to be highlighted in RTÉ’s flagship science show, ’10 Things to Know About’, which will expose the little-known effects of modern farming practices on the nation’s land, which has 213 different soil types.

A recent UK report estimated that our nearest neighbours only have 100 harvests left before soils become too degraded to grow crops. And Teagasc soil scientist Dr David Wall says there is concern about the rapid decline in Irish soil fertility.

“Without a balanced mix of essential nutrients in soil, agriculture, which is a big part of the national economy, would decline,” said Dr Wall

“If nothing is done, we’ll arrive back in the 1960s in terms of poor yields, poor quality crops, declining farm incomes and then it will affect the whole food economy.”

’10 Things to Know About’ will reveal how tests on 200,000 soil samples from around the country in 2016 showed just 11pc of soils were fertile.

This is a sharp fall from the 18pc of fertile land recorded in 2006.

“Our soil nutrient reserves are being mined over time,” said Dr Wall.

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“The evidence from our samples show there has been a massive decline in soil fertility since 2006. It’s a fast drop but it will be a slower process to get it back.”

Soil fertility declines when more nutrients are removed from the earth by crops over time than are introduced back into the soil.

Dr Wall explained that the sharp drop in fertiliser use on agricultural soils in recent decades is due to factors including increased regulation and cost, poor weather and environmental concerns.

In ’10 Things to Know About’, which is presented by Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin and airs on RTÉ 1 at 8.30pm tonight, Dr Wall reveals how a drop in fertilisation coupled with more intensive farming practices, which remove more nutrients from the land, has caused the decline in fertility of Irish fields.

“Our fertiliser use has declined since 1990, our use of phosphorus and potassium [fertilisers] has more than halved – along with nitrogen, they are the biggest nutrients needed to grow crops,” he said.

Ireland’s grass-fed agriculture is different from the farming systems used by our European counterparts, where most of the beef and dairy herds are fed indoors on imported feed.

This leaves Irish farmers more reliant on fertile soil to grow grass to feed their animals directly.

But Dr Wall said that action is now being taken in the form of awareness campaigns to encourage farmers to introduce measures to improve the quality of the soil.

“Teagasc, through our advisory services, the dairy industry, the farm organisations like the IFA, and policymakers are acutely aware of this and there are various awareness campaigns running in recent years,” he added.

“The general consumer probably sees fertilisers sometimes in a negative light because in the past we may have overused them in certain areas.”

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IDA plays down rental crisis with '€1,000-a-month' apartment claim

The IDA has sought to play down the state of the housing crisis to multinational companies.

Its executives were advised to tell prospective investors that the housing shortage was “not unique to Ireland”.

A series of briefing documents also advised IDA executives to stress to companies that monthly rents in Dublin were still competitive by international standards.

It claimed the rent for a small “one-person apartment” in Dublin was just above €1,000 a month.

This was almost half the price of rent in San Francisco, and significantly less than other major cities such as New York, Hong Kong and London.

The documents were drawn up after multinational companies raised concerns over “constraints” and “clear market failures” in the residential property market.

The IDA briefings included rent data from the Nestpick Furnished Apartment Index.

The briefings for the IDA also emphasised that rents in regional locations in Ireland were “very competitive”.

While the standardised average rent in Dublin was €1,436 a month, the average in Cork and Galway was just over €1,000. In Waterford, it was just €674.

However, according to the Residential Tenancies Board in the second quarter of 2018, the standardised average rent for Dublin stood at €1,587, representing an increase of €128 on average monthly rent over a 12-month period. Nationally, rents grew at 7.6pc annually in that quarter.

For property purchases, the briefing said that average residential prices in Dublin – at just over €400,000 – were “competitive compared to competing larger cities”.

Average property prices were at least 50pc higher in Paris, Zurich and Geneva, according to the documents prepared by the IDA.

Ireland did not compare so well to cities such as Milan, Prague and Frankfurt however.

“Regional cities compare exceptionally well to other competing cities,” the briefing said, with average prices in Cork and Galway below €200,000.

The briefing also said there were “hugely positive trends” in the residential property market. It said that first-time buyers in Ireland were in a much better financial situation now than they were at the height of the boom.

“The average first-time buyer working couple uses 21.2pc of their net income to fund a mortgage in Ireland – this was 32pc in 2007,” the briefing explained.

The briefings are based on a series of quarterly housing reports commissioned by the IDA from estate agents Lisney.

The reports were started because of concerns from companies about the Irish property market.

“Our clients operate in an international context and it is IDA Ireland’s role to consider how we compare to our competitors,” the IDA said.

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In Ireland, Bid to Restore Birthright Citizenship Gains Ground

DUBLIN — Ireland, which seems intent on bucking the illiberal tide in the West, is at it again: As other countries move to tighten restrictions on immigration, the Irish public is overwhelmingly in favor of a proposal to reinstate birthright citizenship.

A proposed law on the subject passed a preliminary vote in the Irish Senate on Wednesday, three days after an opinion poll for the Irish edition of The Sunday Times of London showed that 71 percent of respondents favor birthright citizenship. Nineteen percent were opposed and 10 percent undecided.

Should it be enacted, the proposed law would grant the right to citizenship to any person who is born in Ireland and subsequently lives in the country for three years, regardless of the parents’ citizenship or residency status. It would largely reverse the effect of 2004 referendum in which 79 percent of voters supported the removal of a constitutional provision granting citizenship to anyone born in Ireland.

This remarkable swing in public opinion, at a time when President Trump has called for ending birthright citizenship in the United States, follows a high-profile case in which Eric Zhi Ying Xue, a 9-year-old boy who was born in Ireland, was threatened last month with deportation along with his Chinese mother.

His teachers and classmates at St. Cronan’s School in County Wicklow rallied around him, and a petition asking the government not to deport Eric or his mother collected 50,000 signatures within a few days. The family was instead given three months to make a case to be given legal permission to remain in the country, a possible route to full citizenship.

As popular as it may be, the birthright citizenship proposal has one critical opponent: the Irish government, which says it will seek to defeat the new bill.

The government’s opposition is based on the special relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland, said a spokesman for the Department of Justice and Equality, which has responsibility for immigration matters.

Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, its people are legally entitled to both British and Irish citizenship. The Irish government fears that people living illegally in Britain could move to Northern Ireland, give birth to a child there and obtain Irish citizenship for their child after living there for three years.

The parents could then use the child’s citizenship to obtain residency anywhere in Ireland or the United Kingdom which, though separate countries, confer extensive mutual residency and travel rights on each other’s citizens.

There are also concerns that British residents seeking to retain European rights to free movement after Britain leaves the European Union might use the same mechanism to obtain citizenship in the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the bloc.

The spokesman also said that the present path to citizenship for those born in Ireland was aligned with the provisions in most other European Union member states, and that the government had the discretion to make exceptions in difficult cases. Under the current system, the Irish-born individual must have at least one Irish parent, or several years of legal residency in Ireland by a parent, to qualify for citizenship.

Ivana Bacik, the senator who introduced the bill, said that the current immigration system was too slow and too dependent on the opaque decisions of officials.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of cases of children born and raised in Ireland, yet who are threatened with deportation because their parents’ immigration cases have dragged on for years and years,” Ms. Bacik said.

“In cases like Eric’s, the ministers tend to intervene under public pressure and give leave to remain,” she said. “But it shouldn’t be up to the classmates of frightened children to mount campaigns to have them stay in the country.”

Ms. Bacik said that her bill had the support of the three main opposition parties, and that she was confident it would pass all stages in the Senate. But its prospects in the more powerful lower house, the Dail, are less certain.

“Whether it can pass in the Dail remains to be seen, but I’m hopeful,” she said.

“The government is more trenchant in its opposition than we expected. Their talk in the Senate about new waves of immigrants was almost Trumpian. But even if they can defeat this bill, they will still have to do something to regularize people in this position.”

The Irish Council for Immigrants, an independent nongovernmental organization, said that Eric’s case was part of a broader problem relating to the registration and legalization of children who were either born in Ireland to undocumented immigrants or brought to the country when they were very young.

This year, pupils, teachers and parents at a school in Tullamore, County Offaly, successfully fought the deportation of Nonso Muojeke, a 14-year-old who was born in Nigeria but has lived in Ireland since the age of 2.

“It is really the classmates of these children who are standing up for them,” said Pippa Woolnough, a spokeswoman for the Irish Council for Immigrants. “It’s people saying, ‘Hang on, this is Eric or Nonso; I play with him after school and he’s part of our community. He’s as Irish as I am.’”

Immigrant support groups complain that Ireland’s immigration system is intimidating, inconsistent, slow and difficult to navigate. They want the government to make the system more streamlined and transparent, so that children threatened with deportation do not have to lobby in the hope that someone with influence will take an interest in their case.

Maeve Tierney, the principal of St. Cronan’s, where Eric is a student, said that she had heard from other schools that there could be several hundred more cases similar to those of Eric and Nonso, and that the government may have opposed the proposed changes for fear of setting a precedent.

But she said the current system was unfair and unsustainable.

“I’m not saying open the doors to everyone and anyone,” she said. “Any system can be exploited. But this is just wrong.”

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Ireland can be loudest voice in call to end crisis in Yemen

Some days, as I get ready to go to work here in Sana’a, Yemen, I hear the deep drone sound of fighter jets from the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition (SELC) fly overhead. While I make my coffee and plan for the workday ahead, the pilots are busy with their own morning routine: slicing through the sky above my head and often dropping the bombs that shake the ground beneath my feet.

Since the escalation of the current conflict in 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical facilities have been hit by airstrikes several times, with deadly and life-changing consequences for patients, staff, and the communities that depend on the services.

MSF staff have been detained and shot at. An explosive device has been planted in one of our hospitals, and in perhaps the most egregious attack, armed men entered an MSF supported hospital and shot at a patient while he was lying on the operating table. Miraculously he survived.

Recently, we took the difficult decision to close one of our projects in the governorate of Ad Dhale, southern Yemen.

The decision was taken after a string of issues, which culminated in a targeted attack on our staff house and a subsequent attack on our supported hospital days after.

Far from being unique, these incidents are simply further examples of the most vulnerable populations in Yemen being denied the lifesaving aid they need.

MSF significantly increased its work in Yemen at the escalation of the conflict. As of today, we have treated some 110,000 patients for cholera, delivered nearly 60,000 babies and provided medical care to more than 800,000 emergency room patients.

We have been responding to the needs of the population as best as we can but the medical humanitarian gap that exists in the country is huge – even in comparison to other conflicts to which we have responded.

Working right across the country – and on both sides of the frontline – the medical concerns we see are either a direct result, or a consequence of this brutal and under- reported conflict.

Since fighting began, the public health system in Yemen has essentially collapsed.

Public medical facilities have an extremely limited supply of medicines, and salaries for medical staff have largely not been paid since August 2016.

It is difficult to comprehend the scale of the crisis, but picture the Health Service Executive (HSE) unable to pay its staff for nearly three years and you can better imagine the current state of medical care in Yemen.

And healthcare is only one of the essential services upon which the population depends for survival that has been degraded by the conflict.

This degradation is having a devastating impact on the health of Yemen’s 27 million people and is a result of Yemen’s ongoing conflict, embargo, attacks against medical facilities and an economy pushed into freefall – from both internal and external forces.

As a result, the medical consequences of the conflict we witness in our hospitals are not ordinary – but they are relatively predictable in such a situation.

We see a resurgence in deadly vaccine preventable diseases (cholera, measles and diphtheria), a monumental gap in maternal and paediatric care, acute hunger, and an urgent need for an increase in care for war-wounded patients.

This is without even considering the lack of capacity to adequately treat non-communicable and chronic illnesses requiring treatment such as cancer, diabetes and dialysis.

MSF can only monitor and treat these diseases as best we can, all across the country.

Although these outcomes are comparable to what we witness working in other conflict zones, the scale of their impact is further compounded by the practical disregard of International Humanitarian Law by all parties to the conflict here in Yemen.

There is the need for a massive scale-up of humanitarian aid. There needs to be a massive increase in quality, independent, primary healthcare in Yemen. We have been calling for this over the past three years, yet we still do not witness the type of improvement needed on the ground.

What we do see is that humanitarian actors are facing obstructions in their work from all parties and at all levels.

Organisations operating in Yemen are often constrained by ‘administrative’ hurdles in assessing locations and providing relief in many parts of Yemen. This results in an inability to adequately monitor and assess the impact of their programmes across the country.

Another dilemma faced in Yemen is that the main parties in the conflict, Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA and the UK, are also the main donors of humanitarian assistance via the UN – providing some 71pc of the relief assistance in 2018.

Bombing hospitals with one hand and writing the cheque to rebuild them with the other distorts the perception – and security – of aid and independent humanitarian organisations in Yemen like ourselves.

States not linked to this conflict should further increase their humanitarian funding to respond to this crisis.

Because of these challenges and complexities, Yemen is utterly deserving of our full attention.

Ireland, in its bid to win a rotating seat on the UN Security Council in 2021, can be the loudest voice calling for a massive upscale of medical care and humanitarian assistance in the country. Ireland should not forget this man-made humanitarian crisis and call out all parties to the conflict who so brazenly flout International Humanitarian Law.

Alex Dunne is humanitarian affairs officer for Médecins Sans Frontières in Sana’a, Yemen

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Revealed: Personal injury payouts four times higher in Ireland than in UK

Payouts for personal injuries in Ireland are on average 4.4 times higher than in the UK, an analysis of the insurance payouts in both jurisdictions has found.

The analysis was carried out by the government’s Personal Injuries Commission and has been submitted to Business Minister Heather Humphreys, with a series of recommendations on how to tackle high insurance costs.

Personal injury claims generally arise from motor, workplace or public place accidents, or medical negligence incidents. They can be resolved through direct settlement between parties, through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) or through the Courts.

Ireland operates a fault-based system in relation to injury claims. The legislative/constitutional framework in Ireland is that the victim of an accident caused by the negligence of others is entitled to be compensated by the liable party.

While it was known that the payouts for injuries by Irish courts was higher, the difference of more than four times the average was unanticipated.

According to the report, Ireland has a very high frequency of ‘whiplash’ claims, and that ‘whiplash’ compensation levels are also significantly higher.

It is estimated that 80pc of motor personal injury claims currently reported are ‘whiplash’ related. When compared to the UK, the whiplash claims are on an average three times higher.

The report concludes that soft-tissue injuries account for a large proportion of claims by volume in Ireland.

The Personal Injury Commission was established to investigate and report on different compensation models after car insurance premiums shot upto 70% between 2015 to 2017. The PIC was  also tasked with investigating the potential for the establishment of a panel of medical experts for use in Court which would restrict the parties in personal injury proceedings to using experts from a panel designated by the Courts.

The PIC report was led by Nicholas Kearns, former president of the High Court. Reportedly, the second and final report by the PIC has been finalised is scheduled to be published in August or September.

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