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Bus hijacked and set on fire as disorder continues

Voice Of EU



A bus was hijacked and set on fire near an interface in Belfast after violence broke out again in Northern Ireland on Wednesday evening.

The bus was set alight after youths pelted it with petrol bombs at the junction of Lanark Way and the Shankill Road in west Belfast.

A person with a canister next to a fire during clashes at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface in Belfast. Photograph: Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
A person with a canister next to a fire during clashes at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface in Belfast. Photograph: Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The North’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, condemned the violence and said her thoughts were with the driver. “This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder.

“These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism. They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real lawbreakers in Sinn Féin.”

The Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said the “disgraceful scenes of violence and destruction” in Belfast on Wednesday night had “clearly been planned in advance and orchestrated by loyalist criminal gangs.”

He said the location of “so-called protests” close to interfaces was a “clear and deliberate attempt to raise tensions and incite further violence” and they needed to end “before someone is killed or seriously injured.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted on Wednesday night: “Very disturbing scenes of violence in NI tonight. All people of influence, political and community leaders, have a responsibility to do what they can to defuse tension.”

The British prime minister Boris Johnson also tweeted on Wednesday night that he was “deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist.

“The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence of criminality.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed on Wednesday evening they had received a report of an assault on a press photographer in Cupar Way at 6.05pm.

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland condemned the “despicable attack”, saying it was “the latest attempt to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs and was an attack on the freedom of the press.

“We stand with Kevin Scott and all journalists in Northern Ireland forced to work in a climate of fear,” Mr Corrigan said.

“For some considerable time Amnesty has been warning of the escalation of chilling threats against journalists.

“Once again, we are calling for the police to hold the perpetrators to account and to uphold press freedom, which is a cornerstone of any democratic society, but is under serious and sustained threat in Northern Ireland.”

It follows consecutive nights of unrest which began last week in loyalist areas in Derry, Belfast and elsewhere in Co Antrim which left 41 police officers injured. Ten arrests have been made.

Members of the North’s Assembly have been recalled from Easter recess and will debate a motion condemning the violence on Thursday morning.

Earlier on Wednesday, the chair of the North’s Policing Board called for “dialogue at all levels” between police officers, politicians and the community in order to calm tensions in loyalist areas.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, briefed members of the accountability body on the recent disorder, injuries to officer and the police’s assessment of the situation.

Speaking to the BBC following the briefing, Policing Board chairman Doug Garrett said there must be a “redoubling of efforts to calm tensions” and leadership was needed “from all those with influence” so that concerns could be addressed through democratic structures.

He also said that for senior politicians and the police not to talk was “not an ideal position” and dialogue was the only way to resolve the issues.

Mrs Foster faced criticism on Wednesday for her refusal to speak to the Chief Constable amid the continuing fallout over the decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for attending the funeral of Bobby Storey in apparent breach of the Covid-19 regulations.

Anger at the decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and unionist opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol and heightened tensions in loyalist areas over its operation, as well as recent drug seizures against the breakaway South East Antrim UDA, have also been blamed for the attacks on police.

Ms Foster said that if she met the Chief Constable “I will simply repeat what I said to him last Tuesday after the devastating report from the PPS [Public Prosecution Service] for him when I said that he had lost the confidence of the unionist community and he should resign.”

However, Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said Ms Foster’s refusal to meet with the Chief Constable was a “mistake”, and while he also had “issues” with Mr Byrne because of “past actions and decisions … that should not be the cause for us to refuse to engage.”

The North’s Minister for Justice and leader of the Alliance Party Naomi Long told RTÉ it was “preposterous” Ms Foster “refuses” to meet Mr Byrne just weeks after she met the Loyalist Communities Council, an umbrella group for loyalist paramilitaries.

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Simon Harris and wife welcome new baby boy

Voice Of EU



Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has announced the birth of a baby son.

Posting on Instagram, the Minister said he and his wife Caoimhe had on Wednesday “welcomed Baby Cillian into the world”. Cillian is the couple’s second child, they also have a daughter Saoirse.

“Caoimhe and baby doing great and Saoirse delighted to be a big sister and looking forward to meeting him soon.”

Mr Harris thanked all of the staff at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin.

The Fine Gael TD said he will be taking paternity leave for a few weeks to “get to know this new little man”.

In a previous post he said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar would be taking any of his department’s business to Government during the time while Minister of State Niall Collins would be carrying out his day-to-day work in the department and Labour leader Alan Kelly would be providing a pair for Dáil votes.

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Macron presses Biden for ‘clarifications’ over submarine snub

Voice Of EU



Macron was left furious by Australia’s decision last week to ditch a 2016 deal to buy diesel submarines from France in favour of nuclear-powered ones from the United States and Britain.

After a cabinet meeting, government spokesman Gabriel Attal made clear French anger had not abated with an unusually frank statement of Macron’s expectations from the scheduled conversation with 78-year-old Biden.

The exchange would be an opportunity to “clarify both the way in which this announcement was made and the way for an American re-engagement in its relationship with an ally,” Attal said.

Paris was particularly outraged that Australia negotiated with Washington and London in secret, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”.

French officials were notified about the loss of the contract just hours before Biden unveiled the new AUKUS security and defence partnership between the three English-speaking countries.

READ ALSO OPINION: France’s Australian submarine row shows that Macron was right about NATO

Macron was expecting “clarifications about the American decision to keep a European ally outside of fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” Attal added, without giving the schedule time for the exchange.

“We expect our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this poses a question about confidence, which all of us need to draw conclusions about now.”


The submarine row has plunged Franco-US ties into what some analysts view as the most acute crisis since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Paris opposed.

After four years of tumultuous relations with ex-president Donald Trump, the spat has also dashed hopes of a complete reset under Biden, who took office in January aiming to rebuild frazzled ties with Europe.

As the row drags on, observers and some of France’s European partners are wondering how and when the French leader will call an end to the face-off, which is playing out just seven months ahead of presidential elections.

British Prime Minister Johnson said it was “time for some of our dearest friends around the world to ‘prenez un grip’ (get a grip)” in comments in Washington that mixed French and English.

“‘Donnez-moi un break’ because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security,” he told Sky News.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, whose country is staunchly pro-American, defended Biden as “very loyal” and warned against turning “challenges which will always exist between allies into something they should not be.”


Attal said that France and the US needed to begin a process “to create the conditions for confidence to be restored”.

As well as an acknowledgement of French interests in the Pacific region, the process should include “full recognition by our American allies of the need to boost European sovereignty as well as the importance of the growing commitment by the Europeans to their own defence and security.”

This latter point is a source of tension between Biden and Macron, who has pushed hard during his four-and-a-half years in office for Europeans to invest more in defence and pool resources in order to increase their joint military capabilities.

The US, and some EU members including Denmark and Baltic countries, see this as a potential challenge to NATO, the US-led transatlantic military alliance that has been the cornerstone of European defence since World War II.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly argued against the idea of France withdrawing from NATO command structures, which some politicians in France have suggested in the wake of the submarines snub.

“Is it worth slamming the door on NATO? I don’t think so,” she said, while adding that “political dialogue is non-existent in NATO.”

Australia’s decision to order nuclear-powered submarines was driven by concern about China’s commercial and military assertiveness in the Pacific region, where Biden is seeking to build an alliance of democratic states to help contain Beijing.

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Paschal Donohoe plans bank levy extension but lower haul

Voice Of EU



Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will continue the Irish banking levy beyond its scheduled conclusion date at the end of this year, but plans to lower the targeted annual haul from the current €150 million as overseas lenders Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland retreat from the market, according to sources.

Reducing the industry overall levy target will avoid the remaining three banks facing higher levy bills at a time when the Government is seeking to lower its stakes in the bailed-out lenders.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB paid a combined €93 million levy in each of the last two years, according to their latest annual reports. A decision on the new targeted yield, currently linked to deposit interest retention tax (DIRT) collected by banks on customers’ savings, will be announced at the unveiling of Budget 2022 on October 12th.

Originally introduced in 2014 by then minister for finance Michael Noonan for three years to ensure banks made a “contribution” to a recovering economy after the sector’s multibillion-euro taxpayer bailout, the annual banking levy has since been extended to the end of 2021.

A further extension of the levy has largely been expected by the banks and industry analysts, as the sector has been able to use multibillion euro losses racked up during the financial crisis to reduce their tax bills. A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the future status of the banking levy as planning for Budget 2022 continues.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB (PTSB) alone have utilised almost €500 million of tax losses against their corporation tax bills between 2017 and 2019, according to Department of Finance figures.

Sources said that the Government will be keen not to land a levy increase on the three lenders at a time when it is currently selling down its stake in Bank of Ireland and plotting a course for the reduction of its positions in AIB and PTSB in time.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which holds the Bank of Ireland stake on behalf of the Minister for Finance, sold 2 percentage points of holding in the market between July and August, reducing its interest to just below 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, it has been reported in recent days that the UK government is planning to lower an 8 per cent surcharge that it has applied to bank profits since the start of 2016. It comes as the general UK corporation tax is set to rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

“The optics of reducing the surcharge might still be bad politically, but it would signal the partial rehabilitation for the nation’s banking sector,” said Eamonn Hughes, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers, in a note to clients on Tuesday, adding that he continues to factor in a retention of the Irish banking levy in his financial estimates for banks over the medium term.

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