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Airport war-of-words between Michael O’Leary and Eamon Ryan deepens

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan’s claim he cannot intervene to lift the 32-million passenger cap at Dublin Airport is untrue, according to Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary. Airport operator DAA has asked Fingal County Council to lift a condition restricting passenger numbers, a limit that has sparked angry exchanges between Mr O’Leary and the Minister. In his latest broadside against the Minister, the airline boss branded Mr Ryan’s argument he could not intervene in the planning process as untrue. “In recent interviews, you have shown no restraint in confidently predicting that the Dublin Metro will receive planning approval ‘later this year’, despite the fact that this project is currently being considered by An Bord Pleanála,” Mr O’Leary said in an open letter to the Minister. “You clearly have no difficulty intervening in the planning process for the Dublin Metro, while at the same time you abdicate all responsibility for, or refuse to act (even on an interim basis) to remove this absurd traffic cap, which blocks all growth of traffic and tourism in Ireland through Dublin.” He accuses the minister of “delivering stagnation” rather than the growth called for in the Government’s National Aviation Strategy. Mr O’Leary was responding to Mr Ryan’s own answer to earlier calls from the Ryanair chief to tackle the passenger cap or resign. The Minister maintained he could not interfere in the planning process – Dublin Airport operator DAA has applied to Fingal County Council to lift the passenger limit to 40 million – and dubbed Mr O’Leary’s statements as highly personal and inflammatory. Mr Ryan also noted he had invited Mr O’Leary to meet, but the airline boss said this claim had surprised him. “If you wanted to meet with Europe’s largest airline at any time over the past four years you could have easily requested such a meeting,” he said. Mr O’Leary said if the Minister needed to learn how to grow air travel and tourism he was welcome to visit Ryanair’s headquarters in Swords, Co Dublin. He maintained that Eddie Wilson, chief executive of Ryanair DAC, the airline group’s biggest subsidiary, repeatedly invited the minister there. An Bord Pleanála imposed the 32 million a-year passenger cap on Dublin Airport as a condition of granting DAA permission to build its new north runway. Dublin opened the runway in 2022, boosting capacity to 60 million passengers, according to Mr O’Leary. He wants Mr Ryan to introduce legislation lifting the cap, if necessary on an interim basis while Fingal council planners deal with the DAA application to lift it. Mr O’Leary said it remarkable that two Green Party ministers, Mr Ryan and Catherine Martin, were responsible for transport and tourism, but appeared incapable of scrapping the passenger limit. A Department of Transport spokesman said Mr Ryan’s office would contact Ryanair to arrange a meeting. “With regard to the planning application submitted by DAA to Fingal County Council to enable to the airport to grow to 40 million passengers a-year, the minister reiterates that he cannot intervene in the planning process as it would be wholly inappropriate for him to do so,” he added.

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Qatar accuses Israel of deliberately starving Palestinians in Gaza

Qatar accused Israel on Wednesday of deliberately starving Palestinians in Gaza and called on the international community to put more pressure on Israel to facilitate deliveries of aid without restrictions. Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said aid provided to Gaza “is a very small part of what the residents of the strip need. There are 2.3 million people living in the complete absence of health and emergency services. More than one million live in tents in the south of the strip”. On Tuesday Ramesh Rajasingham, deputy chief of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the Security Council that at least 576,000 people in Gaza – a quarter of the population – were “one step away from famine”. He said nearly 17 per cent of toddlers in northern Gaza were afflicted by acute malnutrition and wasting and all Gazans relied on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive. If nothing was done, he warned, there would be “many more victims” than the 30,000 war fatalities reported by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. “To get a bare minimum of supplies into Gaza,” Mr Rajasingham said, aid agencies faced intrusive Israeli inspections, crossing closures, lack of communications, restricted freedom of movement, unrest, unexploded ordnance and ravaged roads. An OCHA spokesman, Jens Laerke, said aid convoys were fired upon and humanitarian workers faced harassment, intimidation and detention by Israeli forces. Speaking to the US news network CNN on Tuesday from Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, Norwegian Refugee Council head Jan Egeland said: “In my many, many years as an aid worker, I have never seen a place which has been so bombarded for such a long time with such a trapped population, without any escape. People are traumatised beyond belief.” Asked about aeroplanes dropping small quantities of aid by parachute, he said there could be a much better way to deliver aid and “it’s up to Israel with the United States and Egypt to fix it”. Air drops were a a “last resort”, he said. “The solution is to get the Rafah crossing [from Egypt] and Kerem Shalom [from Israel] to work to capacity,” Mr Egeland said. While 500 lorry loads of goods used to reach Gaza before the war through Kerem Shalom, he now saw only “a handful of trucks” waiting to cross while there were long lines in Egypt outside Rafah. He added aid deliveries were chaotic because “there is so little aid coming in”. On Tuesday, two C130 military transport aircraft from Jordan, and one each from the Emirates, Egypt and France flew low along the Gaza coast and dropped parcels containing hygiene kits and high nutrition ready-to-aid meals. Satellite television news showed desperate Palestinian youths rushing into the sea to retrieve parcels. A sixth Jordanian plane parachuted medical and fuel supplies to the kingdom’s field hospital near Rafah. Jordan began air drops in November to supply its hospital but has expanded the effort, which has also been joined by the Netherlands and Britain. Four C-130s carry about 50 tonnes in total. This is far short of the 950 tonnes the World Food Programme has said would feed 488,000 people for a week. See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & BritainSign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phoneFind The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to dateOur In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here

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Nearly half of all rivers on island of Ireland below ‘good ecological health standards’

Nearly half of all rivers on the island of Ireland are “below good ecological health standards”, while almost one fifth are in poor or bad ecological health, according to the Rivers Trust. Agriculture emerges as the leading contributor to poor water status on both sides of the Border, impacting 63 per cent of the 1,023 stretches of river surveyed, a survey by the environmental charity found. Activities such as altering river flow, forestry and urban runoff further exacerbate the situation, according to the trust’s 2024 State of Our Rivers report. The study provides analysis of rivers across Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Britain, highlighting widespread challenges facing freshwater ecosystems. It is the first time that data from Ireland and Northern Ireland has been included in the report. The survey considers the health of aquatic plants, fish, insects and other invertebrates which are indicators of the overall condition of freshwater. Of the 193 locations surveyed for chemical pollutants, 60 per cent failed tests. Compared to lakes, coastal and transitional waters, a far lower percentage of the Irish rivers sampled achieved high ecological status. Only 39 per cent reached good or high biological standards. Dr Constanze O’Toole, Rivers Trust Ireland development manager, said the findings underscore the urgent need to safeguard Ireland’s freshwater environment. She said collective effort was needed to address widespread problems effectively “whether it is maintaining septic tanks, protecting against invasive species, or not putting items that cause blockage in sewers – protecting freshwater sources is everyone’s responsibility”. Dr O’Toole said the Government had to provide adequate investment in water infrastructure, conservation and alleviation projects, and to empower communities, backed by coherent and robust legislation. Ireland is bound by EU directives and regulations to protect and enhance the quality of its water bodies, she added. “This includes the EU Water Framework Directive, which sets objectives for achieving good ecological and chemical status in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters by specific deadlines.” Combined with directives on nitrates, urban wastewater treatment and environmental liability, “most of the governance apparatus is there to improve water quality but we must take affirmative action to ensure it all works together for the desired outcome”. Mark Horton, director of the Rivers Trust, said: “This report is an alarm bell to every local community, citizen, politician, landowner and our business community that we need to take collective action if we want to improve and protect this vital freshwater resource that we all depend on and avert a deepening environmental and ecological crisis.” He said he remained optimistic the problems identified could be addressed “as almost all pressures negatively impacting our rivers, loughs and groundwater are caused by human activities, and it is, therefore, within our gift to reverse some of these impacts”. Meanwhile, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has received Government approval for a €110 million programme led by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) to reduce negative impacts caused by river barriers on biodiversity and the migration of fish. A range of different structures in rivers, including bridge floors, culverts, sluices and weirs, constitute “hydromorphological pressures” which can interfere with natural river processes including fish movements and migration. Of 73,000 barriers identified by IFI, up to 10 per cent will likely require removal or mitigation. Ireland’s latest river basin management plan aims to remove about 5 per cent (257) of problem barriers between this year and 2027. See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & BritainSign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phoneFind The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to dateOur In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here

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British Legacy Act immunity clause for Troubles crimes 'breaches' human rights

The act involves a conditional amnesty for suspects and introduces a ban on inquests and future civil actions related to the Troubles era. Aspects of the laws also include a limited form of immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences for those who co-operate with the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR). Delivering a judgment at Belfast High Court, Mr Justice Adrian Colton said there was no evidence the immunity provision would in any way contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. However, the judge also said a new body set up to probe Troubles killings could carry out human rights-compliant investigations. The Legacy Act received royal assent in September despite widespread opposition from political parties, victims’ organisations in Northern Ireland and the Government. Mr Justice Colton told the court: “I am satisfied that the immunity from prosecution provisions under section 19 of the Act are in breach of the lead applicant’s rights pursuant to Article 2 of the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights). “I am also satisfied they are in breach of Article 3 of the ECHR.” He added: “There is no evidence that the granting of immunity under the Act will in any way contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland, indeed the evidence is to the contrary.” However, the judge also said a new body set up to probe Troubles killings could carry out human rights-compliant investigations. The case was brought by Martina Dillon, John McEvoy, Lynda McManus and Brigid Hughes. Ms Dillon’s husband Seamus was shot dead in a loyalist attack in Dungannon, Tyrone, in 1997. Ms Hughe’s husband Anthony was killed in 1987 after driving into an ambush of an IRA unit in Armagh by the SAS. Mr McEvoy was shot in the Thierafurth Inn in Kilcoo in Down in 1992, while Ms McManus’s father James was among those in the Sean Graham bookmakers shooting in Belfast, also in 1992.

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EU at risk of becoming ‘complicit’ in migrant deaths due to Frontex shortcomings, watchdog warns

THE EU RISKS becoming “complicit” in migrant deaths due to shortcomings in Frontex’s role in search and rescue operations, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has said. The European Union watchdog – which looks into suspected cases of poor administration by EU bodies – launched an independent probe last July into the actions of Frontex, the bloc’s border agency, after hundreds of people died when the Adriana sank off the coast of Greece the previous month. The inquiry findings, published yesterday, outline that Frontex’s role in search and rescue operations has shown that the current rules leave the agency unable to fulfil its fundamental rights obligations and too reliant on Member States to act when boats carrying migrants are in distress. O’Reilly said there is “obvious tension between Frontex’s fundamental rights obligations and its duty to support Member States in border management control”. The sinking of the migrant boat made international headlines due to its sheer scale but the tragedy was not unique to the Mediterranean, which is the world’s deadliest migration route. The Adriana, an overcrowded fishing trawler, was carrying up to 750 people picked up in Libya who sought to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. Around 100 of them were saved, but it is thought that some 600 drowned. Following the sinking, The New York Times reported that the Greek coastguard had waited hours before responding to the boat in distress. EU investigation Yesterday’s report outlined that according to documents inspected during the inquiry, Frontex made four separate offers to assist the Greek authorities by providing aerial surveillance of the Adriana but received no response. The current rules mean that Frontex was not permitted to go to the Adriana’s location at critical periods without the Greek authorities’ permission, Ombudsman said. Consequently, Frontex was at the scene of the Adriana only twice — once briefly by plane two hours after the Italian authorities first made the alert about the Adriana and then 18 hours later with a drone after the boat had already sunk. The inquiry also showed that Frontex has no internal guidelines on issuing emergency signals (eg. Mayday calls), and that there is a failure to ensure Frontex’s fundamental rights monitors are sufficiently involved in decision making on maritime emergencies. “We must ask ourselves why a boat so obviously in need of help never received that help despite an EU agency, two member states’ authorities, civil society, and private ships knowing of its existence,” O’Reilly said. She questioned why reports of “overcrowding, an apparent lack of life vests, children on board, and possible fatalities fail to trigger timely rescue efforts that could have saved hundreds of lives”. Frontex includes ‘coast guard’ in its name but its current mandate and mission clearly fall short of that. If Frontex has a duty to help save lives at sea, but the tools for it are lacking, then this is clearly a matter for EU legislators.” O’Reilly added that there is “obvious tension between Frontex’s fundamental rights obligations and its duty to support Member States in border management control”. “Cooperating with national authorities when there are concerns about them fulfilling their search and rescue obligations risks making the EU complicit in actions that violate fundamental rights and cost lives.” Independent Commission Greece has separately launched two investigations into the incident. However, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint report in December outlining that the investigations have made “little meaningful progress”. Going beyond the inquiry and the suggestions concerning Frontex, the Ombudsman also drew conclusions about broader systemic issues. She noted that while the Greek Ombudsman is investigating the actions of the Greek coastguard, there is no single accountability mechanism at EU level that could independently investigate the role of the Greek authorities, the role of Frontex, and the role of the European Commission. She called on the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the Commission to establish an independent commission of inquiry to assess the reasons for the large numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean and to learn from the Adriana shipwreck. “Nearly eight months after the Adriana incident, no changes have been made to prevent such an incident from reoccurring,” O’Reilly said. Includes reporting by David MacRedmond

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New rural party announces first candidate for local elections

Independent Ireland has announced its first candidate for the Local Elections 2024 – Cllr. Shane P O’Reilly in Co. Cavan. In 2019, Cllr. O’Reilly polled 1,703 first preference votes in the Ballyjamesduff Municipal District (MD). A former member of Fianna Fáil, he was elected on the first count with a surplus of almost 100 first preference votes. The married father-of-five served as cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council on two occasions before reaching the age of 40, in both 2014 and 2019. According to Independent Ireland, Cllr. O’Reilly believes in the power of positive community engagement and importance of local decision-making. Commenting on joining the new party set up by TDs, Richard O’Donoghue and Michael Collins, Cllr. O’Reilly said: “All across Ireland, there is a mood for real change. “I firmly believe that with common-sense, councillors, TDs, and senators coming together, we can deliver a real choice and implement the real change that so many people are seeking. “I am delighted to be joining such a strong team and am keen to ensure that I continue to work for the people of my local area and for the wider Cavan constituency to help deliver a better future for all of my constituents.” The Cavan local representative said that he also believes that Independent Ireland has the “drive, determination, and the people to deliver the change we need”. He said that in order to have a real impact, politicians need to come together with new ideas and solutions. “I remember a time when politics was a force for good in the country, and politicians did what they could to make life easier for people. Nowadays, politics seems to be more about point scoring than problem solving,” the councillor added. “Progress has been great in some ways and in other ways we have called things progressive which have actually been regressive. “Traditional political parties have taken for granted their loyal supporters and we want to reset the dial so that politics serves people again,” Cllr. O’Reilly added. Party leader, Michael Collins, said he was delighted to welcome Shane P to Independent Ireland: “Shane P is a hard-working and common-sense driven politician. He has served his community tirelessly. “Shane P is a proactive community worker, embodying the vital personality traits of compassion and consciousness which make him a capable public representative of the highest calibre.”

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‘There were times when I went to the ATM wondering if I could get money out, times I paid the staff but couldn

That’s the stark warning from RTÉ presenter and money expert Eoin McGee, who describes the housing market of 2024 as “by far the toughest time to buy a house”. Speaking to the Sunday Independent, as he prepares to front his new series The Complaints Bureau on RTÉ One, McGee says “the generation who can’t buy a house is coming”. “If you’re graduating from college this year, you’ll probably be asking yourself if Irish legislation is going to keep up with you — and you’ll be asking yourself if you’d have better opportunities abroad.” Nothing else matters when you’re stuck in the middle of it. It’s real terror. The presenter says claims by the boomer generation (born between 1944 and 1964) that they have had it “tougher” due to high interest rates are untrue. “Our parents’ generation say: ‘We had mortgage interest rates of 18pc and it was terrible — you don’t know how easy you have it.’ But they’re wrong. It’s much harder today to get on the property ladder, and it’s getting harder all the time.” McGee makes his gloomy prediction based on a single person (the largest growing demographic in Ireland) on an above-average wage of €50,000, which is 20pc higher than the average salary in Ireland. He also bases his figures on a person paying the national average rent — which is €1,800 per month, according to the most recent Daft report. In addition he allows for a person’s monthly expenditure on what is considered “a reasonable cost of living”, according to the Insolvency Service of Ireland, a government agency. That leaves an individual with €250 per month to save, after paying rent and bills. “So let’s say you make 20pc more than the average person. That gives you a salary of just over €50,000,” he says. “Now your take-home pay becomes €3,237 after tax. That leaves you with €250 a month spending money after bills, according to the banks and state agencies and what they agree is ‘a reasonable cost of living’. Though I can guarantee that they’re squeezing the hell out of that. “So if you wanted to buy a house for what Daft says is the national average price of €320,000 — I’m not even talking about Dublin where house prices are higher — and you wanted to save a 10pc deposit and cover your solicitor and extra costs, you’d need to save €48,000. And if you save your €250 diligently every single month while renting, it’s going to take you just under 15 and a bit years to save enough for a deposit on a home. “But do you know what the worst part of it is? You’re hoping the average house price stays the same.”​ McGee, a financial planner, number one bestselling author and host of the Understanding Money podcast, says he can see a divided Ireland when he is working at his company, Prosperous Financial. “There’s a whole cohort of people who are doing OK, and there’s a whole cohort who have to dip into their savings, just to make the month work.” If I can go through it and be OK, then there’s hope for all of us. Speaking for the first time about his own experience of hitting financial rock bottom, McGee said he knows what it is like to struggle. “I’ve had really tough times. We set up the business in 2008 — just as the financial crisis hit. There were times when I went to the ATM wondering if I could get money out, times I paid the staff but couldn’t pay myself.” His lowest moment came while sitting in the office staring at his bank balance after paying his staff wages. “As soon as I hit ‘send’, I wondered if I was going to be able to have enough for food. I wondered if I was going to be able to have enough money for petrol to get myself to work.” He says he would describe the feeling as “pure desperation”. “Nothing else matters when you’re stuck in the middle of it. It’s real terror. You find it difficult to see the wood from the trees. But I’ll be honest with you, it’s a game changer to talk to others — which we’re not great at doing in this country.” With time and effort, things eventually got better — his business now employs 23 people and is “flying”. “If I can go through it and be OK, then there’s hope for all of us.” McGee was speaking ahead of the new RTÉ show which investigates consumer complaints from people who have struggled with problems, from not being able to cancel online subscriptions, to regulating lip filler and being scammed while abroad. He will present the show alongside Conor Pope, Amy Molloy of the Irish Independent and Siobhán Maguire as they tackle real-life issues.​ ‘The Complaints Bureau’ starts on Thursday, March 7, at 7pm on RTÉ One and the RTÉ Player

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How important have Southampton’s Irish trio been in their rise? · The 42

CAOIMHIN KELLEHER has been attracting positive headlines of late, but he is not the only Irish goalkeeper who has been impressing across the water this season. Liverpool’s Carabao Cup final hero could come up against his rival for the Ireland number one jersey, as Gavin Bazunu’s Southampton travel to Anfield for this evening’s FA Cup fifth-round tie. Following a difficult spell, there is a sense that the former Shamrock Rovers and Man City youngster has been rejuvenated of late. Initially, the €18.5 million transfer to Southampton did not go as planned. In Bazunu’s first season, the Saints were relegated after finishing 20th in the Premier League. With 73 goals conceded, Leeds United were the only team in the division that had an inferior defensive record. After one mistake too many, the Dubliner was even dropped for the club’s relegation run-in. Having played in all of their first 32 Premier League games that season, Bazunu was absent for the final six, with Alex McCarthy coming in, though it seemingly made little difference, as they picked up just one point from a possible 18 during the games in question. But the Saints’ awful form still meant Bazunu was a target for criticism — Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher described the goalkeeper as a “big problem” for the club. “He found it quite hard settling in and we didn’t have a great defensive record,” says Jack Clarke of the influential @SaintsfcViews X account. “Some people thought his time at the club might be over quite quickly.” Other young players might have struggled to recover from such unfortunate and pressurised circumstances, yet there is a sense that Bazunu has come back stronger. Key to his rejuvenation has been the sense of stability at the club. Southampton had three managers last season — Ralph Hasenhüttl, Nathan Jones and Rubén Sellés — all of whom were ultimately let go. This year, Russell Martin has proved to be a much-needed safe pair of hands, rebuilding the club and significantly, backing Bazunu wholeheartedly in the process. With the manager immediately recalling him to the team, the Irishman has started all 34 of Southampton’s Championship matches so far. Moreover, early on in the season, following a 4-4 draw with Norwich, Bazunu’s status as number one came under scrutiny again, yet the boss emphatically backed his man. “We don’t have a problem with the goalkeeper,” Martin said at a fans’ forum event. “We have a full international who is 20 years old (sic). He will take unbelievable learning from last season playing in the team that finished bottom of the Premier League. “That’s not easy for a goalkeeper and it’s definitely not easy for a young goalkeeper. Alex McCarthy is a really experienced number two, Joe Lumley is a really experienced number three. We have real strength in that department. “I’ve been made aware of this narrative around Gav. Last season happened, you can’t impact that. What he can impact is that he’ll be one of the best goalkeepers in the division for how we want to play. If I was going to look at a goalkeeper I’d want to go and sign Gavin Bazunu. His mentality and how he’s been, how he’s trained and how he played, on Saturday he couldn’t do anything [about the goals]. “Like I said after the game, he doesn’t deserve to concede four goals and it’s not his problem at all, it’s the guys in front of him and we will learn from that.” Since that moment, Bazunu has unquestionably grown in a Southampton jersey. The club are currently fourth in the table, five points off second-place Leeds, and Bazunu has played a big part in their rise. The 22-year-old’s performances were key in a 25-game unbeaten run that only ended earlier this month amid a 3-1 loss to Bristol City. “He’s come on leaps and bounds this year,” says Clarke. “He’s been incredible. His overall game has really improved, his distribution, his shot stopping, he’s making a lot fewer errors as well. He’s become such an important player for us. “I think he probably needed a season playing where he is now in the Championship, which is probably one of the hardest leagues in the world. I think this year has done him the world of good.” Bazunu looks much happier in a team that has grown accustomed to winning games and sitting at the top end of the table while working under a manager who clearly believes in him and has introduced a new playing style and identity. Not that it’s been entirely plain sailing, however. The club’s promotion hopes have been hit by a sudden collapse in form, which has seen them lose three of their last four Championship matches. Just as Bazunu deserves plenty of credit for their impressive run earlier in the season, it should be acknowledged that he has not always been at his best of late. There are occasional lapses of concentration, such as in last week’s 2-1 loss to Hull, when he played out a pass straight to an opposition player. “He does have a mistake in him,” adds Clarke. “He pulls off some incredible saves and you think, how has he done that, one of the best saves you’ve seen all season. And then he’ll let in a very simple goal. There’s a real Jekyll and Hyde [dynamic] with him.” Yet for the most part, Bazunu has excelled, silencing the many voices who were doubting him last season. Southampton boss Russell Martin has wholeheartedly backed Bazunu. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo And the Dubliner was not the only Irish international coming into this campaign with a point to prove. Will Smallbone has long been considered among Southampton’s most promising young players. As far back as the 2019-20 campaign, the midfielder made nine Premier League appearances for the Saints. Nonetheless, an ACL injury that same season put paid to Smallbone’s hopes of enjoying an extended run in the first team. Since then, there is a sense that he has been playing catch-up. After a handful of appearances back in the team following a long layoff, Smallbone joined Stoke City on loan last season in an attempt to resurrect his career. The move proved beneficial for player and club alike — Smallbone was a regular presence in the Potters’ starting XI and his positive impact meant that the club were keen to hold onto him in the summer. Instead, Smallbone opted to try his luck at Southampton once more and to a degree, it has been a successful campaign. The 24-year-old is generally one of the first names on the teamsheet, playing 31 of the club’s 34 Championship outings so far. Yet a player with his outstanding technical ability might feel he should have more than four goals and one assist. The past few weeks in particular have been difficult for Smallbone. A box-to-box midfielder who looks to go forward, he has been asked to play more of a sitting role recently, with the club badly missing the injured Flynn Downes. While Smallbone boasts an impressive range a passing, there is a feeling that he is not well suited to the more defensive ‘number 6′ role. “His performances really split the fanbase,” says Clarke. “If you type his name into Twitter, some days he’s the best thing since sliced bread and other days everyone is asking: ‘Why is he still playing?’ “So I think he’s struggled to find consistency at this level and I think that’s because he’s being switched from position to position. “I think in that 6 position he lacks the work-rate, positioning and awareness.” Similarly, there are question marks over Galway native Ryan Manning. Like Smallbone, he is a player who boasts impressive technical ability while looking vulnerable defensively at times. Manning thrived under Martin at Swansea last season, earning a spot in the WhoScored.com Championship Team of the Season. The manager took the Irish international with him to St Mary’s but the player has not flourished to the same extent as the 2022-23 campaign. While featuring 30 times in the Championship, only 24 of those have been starts, suggesting he has shown a degree of inconsistency. “I’ve just not seen enough this season from him to warrant his place in that starting lineup every week,” adds Clarke. “He gives the ball away far too much. Defensively, he’s been found out a lot. I don’t know if it’s the way he is as a player or if he’s told to by the manager, but he stands off players a lot. It’s meant that a lot of crosses from the left come in and cause a lot of danger in our box. “I think he’s a real momentum player. If he gets two or three games, and a chance to build momentum, he plays well. But sometimes when he comes into [the team], those performances aren’t the best. “I think for the rest of the season, he’ll be in and out of the team, I don’t think he’s cemented himself as the first-choice left-back.” On the other hand, it’s also obvious why Martin often does pick Manning in his starting lineup. “He’s got an incredible delivery on him, he’s great at getting into those positions. And he’s always very dangerous getting forward.” Whether all or any of the Irish trio start at Liverpool this evening is uncertain. Bazunu has been rested for previous FA Cup games and so, might have to be content with a place on the bench at Anfield in a game Martin has admitted his side “could do without”. The priority, of course, will be winning promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt. Does Clarke believe it will be achieved? “If you’d asked me three games ago, it would have been an automatic yes. This [recent losing] run has really killed us, so I think it will be touch and go, but we’ll be in the playoffs at least.” Whatever happens, Messrs Bazunu, Smallbone and Manning will all likely have important roles to play. And they might be joined in years to come by additional Irish performers, with teenagers Joe O’Brien-Whitmarsh and Romeo Akachukwu recently signed from Cork City and Waterford respectively, while Ireland underage international Luke Pearce is also part of the academy set-up there. “What I think is really interesting is the amount of Irish players coming into the club,” adds Clarke. “There seems to be a really big emphasis in Ireland and a real crop of Irish players coming in.”

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Tribunal to examine claims of covert state surveillance of two Belfast journalists

A TRIBUNAL OF senior legal figures is to examine allegations that two investigative journalists were subject to covert surveillance by UK authorities. The UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal is hearing a case brought by Northern Ireland based film makers Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney. In 2018, McCaffrey and Birney rose to public prominence after they were controversially arrested as part of a police investigation into the alleged leaking of a confidential document that appeared in a documentary the men made on a Troubles massacre. The PSNI, citing a conflict of interest, asked Durham Police to lead the investigation into the inclusion of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland document in the No Stone Unturned film on the 1994 UVF massacre in Loughinisland, Co Down. In August 2018, searches were carried out in conjunction with the Durham Constabulary on two homes and an office in Belfast based on suspicion of theft, with police seizing a number of documents and computer equipment. The men were then questioned at Musgrave Police Station about the alleged theft, and were then released on bail. Former PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne later unreservedly apologised for how the men had been treated and the PSNI agreed to pay £875,000 in damages to the journalists and the film company behind the documentary. This settlement came after High Court judges in 2019 ruled the search warrants issued against the two men were “inappropriate” and recommended the seized materials be returned. Lord Chief Justice Morgan said the court had heard nothing to indicate the journalists had done anything wrong. He said they had acted in a perfectly proper manner with a view to protecting their sources in a lawful way. Also in 2019, Birney and McCaffrey lodged a complaint with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal asking it to establish whether there had been any unlawful surveillance of them. The respondents in the case are the PSNI, Durham Police, MI5, the Security Service Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and several government ministers. In a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the tribunal will also probe a separate issue, predating the documentary, that involves claims police officers unlawfully accessed the phone records of Mr McCaffrey. McCaffrey had been investigating alleged police corruption around the time his data was said to have been accessed by the PSNI in 2013. Lord Justice Singh, Lady Carmichael and senior barrister Stephen Shaw KC will sit on the tribunal during the hearing. Loughinisland massacre The two accomplished journalists had worked together on No Stone Unturned, a “chilling” documentary about the murders at the Loughinisland pub in 1994. On 18 June of that year, people had gathered in a small pub The Heights Bar in the village of Loughinisland, Co Down to watch the Republic of Ireland play against Italy in the World Cup. During that night, members of the loyalist paramilitary group the UVF burst in and opened fire, killing six civilians and wounding five. The group later claimed the attack was retaliation for the killing of UVF members. No one has ever been charged with the killings. Includes reporting by Press Association

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‘He lit up the lives of all who knew him’ – British royals in shock as prince’s son-in-law Thomas Kingston die

Thomas Kingston, the husband of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent’s daughter Gabriella Kingston, has died suddenly at the age of 45, Buckingham Palace has announced. Ms Kingston paid tribute to her financier husband in a joint statement with his family, describing him as an “exceptional man who lit up the lives of all who knew him”.

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