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Dad’s army musters in the Dáil to repel the Russian threat

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Rear admiral Gerry Craughwell is all set to swash his buckle and take to the high seas in defence of Mother Ireland.

Who’s with him?

The Independent Senator is no stranger to military manoeuvres. He joined the British army when he was a nipper before returning home to his native Galway to join the Irish Army, serving with the first infantry battalion based in Renmore Barracks before handing in his sergeant’s stripes in 1980.

But you never forget your training. And now, says Gerry, it is time to take the fight to Vladimir Putin by dispatching a crack force from Leinster House to scare the living daylights out of the Russian fleet on its way to play war games next week off the coast of Cork.

He says members of the raiding squad should be drawn from the elite corps known as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, nominally under the command of captain Charlie Flanagan but, presumably, led on this occasion by rear admiral Craughwell for operational purposes.

“In my view, the issue of the Russian fleet being off the southwest coast of this country in the next few weeks carrying out an exercise is something that we must monitor,” he told the Seanad on Thursday.

“We must send a Naval Service vessel to the southwest with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence observing what’s going on there.”

Hear hear!

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to kingdom come

Imagine the scene: the rear admiral in his cocked hat, standing on the prow of LE Kildare Street, chest puffed out and gold-buttoned arm aloft, waving his fist at Russia’s gunboats.

And behind him, standing strong and proud, the highly trained and fearless members of the joint committee eyeballing the terrified sailors who fear Craughwell’s elite force is concealing a terrifying secret weapon brought specially from Cork specially for this dangerous mission.

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to Kingdom come.

This is serious.

The Naval Service must also provide search-and-rescue back-up for the fishermen who are “taking their lives into their hands by sailing their trawlers into a live firing exercise area”, the rear admiral also informed the Seanad.

“I’ve been involved in live firing events myself down through my career and I can tell you that when we start to fire live ammunition, there is no guarantee that there won’t be an accident.”

He said the Minister for Defence (secret weapon Simon Coveney) must be apprised immediately of the situation.

In the meantime, we understand members of the elite joint committee are training in the pond outside Government Buildings. They have been issued with inflatable armbands and camouflage galoshes and are ready to scramble at a moment’s notice.

Should things turn nasty corporal Bernard Durkan, fresh from his famous victory in the Battle of Lotto Balls, will command the troops in the ground offensive. Tactical genius Bernard, who was mentioned in Dáil dispatches on Thursday, will bring all his experience to the role.

Major Jim O’Callaghan of Fianna Fáil asked Coveney to look at the mandatory age of retirement for members of the Defence Forces as some of them leave “because they know they will have to retire between 56 and 60. At that age, many people are just getting into their prime.”

He then looked to his left.

“Deputy Durkan here beside me, could you imagine if there was a requirement in politics that people had to retire between 56 and 60? We’d lose some of the best wisdom we have in the house.”

Sergeant Kieran O’Donnell (FG) agreed. “Bernard still hasn’t reached his prime.”

“Obviously, I entirely agree with my colleague’s remarks,” replied the great campaigner.

Minister for Defence Coveney, clearly wrestling with the image of Bernard (76) in combat fatigues, bayonet fixed and going over the top, tried to address O’Callaghan’s point.

“On the image of deputy Durkan being in the Defence Forces . . . eh, eh, I, em, eh, eh, while absolutely, em, the retirement age issues are something, eh, that we have been considering and . . .”

He decided not to think about it.

RTÉ’s New Year’s Eve turkey

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin had some tough questions for RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes and chairwoman Moya Doherty at this week’s meeting of the Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

Why hasn’t RTÉ brought back The Den and why was the New Year’s Eve show so awful this year?

He said the committee complained about last year’s effort and this year “we had an awful debacle of a New Year’s television celebration again. What has RTÉ got against New Year’s Eve?

The one great white hope we had was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021… It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ

“Last year they got the tone wrong and this year they managed to get the time wrong. I mean, you’ve one job, that’s the 10-second countdown, and I’d say CNN were nearly welcoming in the New Year before RTÉ were this year, it was so far behind. Simple things like that really resonate with people.”

Turning to childrens’ programmes, he said: “The one great white hope we had in recent times was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021 . . . It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ across the boards.”

What happened? “I think it was a huge mistake” not just for the children “but for the big kids amongst us who enjoyed it as well”.

Griffin said he was raising the matter because the number of parents who contacted him about The Den not returning “was not insignificant”.

As for New Year’s Eve next time out, “Could ye not just focus this year? You’ve got 11 months to work on it and just get it right for the arrival of 2023, please.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne suggested Griffin had so many scripted one-liners that maybe RTÉ might get him to present the show next year.

Paschal’s Ulysses odyssey

As it is, there are barely enough hours in the day to cram in all the eating, lounging, thinking, telly, tea, whingeing, scratching, scrolling and playing with the dog.

And here’s the Minister for Finance and president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, hosting another literary event between running his department, writing reviews, going to football matches, chairing history symposiums, working through his library of music albums and adding to his extensive bobblehead superhero figurine collection.

Just where does Paschal Donohoe find the time?

You’d be inclined to hate him, if he wasn’t, well, so flippin’ Paschally.

This thought occurred on Monday night when he popped up at the virtual launch of yet another book about the book Ulysses, which is in the news because it was first published 100 years ago. The Minister was in conversation with Dan Mulhall, whose book Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey is hitting the shops just in time for the centenary next week.

Publisher New Island Books says it is “an essential introduction for all readers seeking to navigate Joyce’s notoriously impenetrable masterpiece”.

Dan also happens to be our Ambassador to the US, so it was a transatlantic Q&A, with the Minister in Dublin and the ambassador in Washington.

Paschal said his “great Covid project of 2021” was to read the book (which, naturally, he has).

“I have a copy of Ulysses which has been in my home for at least two decades and I only had, I guess, the courage to pick it up last year and to begin delving into the extraordinary world that is Ulysses and the extraordinary mind and art that Joyce had to offer.”

He wished he had had a copy of Dan Mulhall’s book to guide him through some of the more difficult passages, because he found the opening chapters “tricky enough. I really had to concentrate and persist at it, to build up a little bit of momentum until I met Leopold and Molly.”

The author’s pragmatic advice to people who get bogged down in some of the more puzzling parts is to simply skip on to the next bit and maybe return later.

“I’m approaching this and I’m talking to you here this evening as a very general reader, somebody who is at the very early stages of trying to understand all that Ulysses has to offer,” explained Paschal.

Mulhall was more than delighted to fill him in further, even managing to get in a reference to the last words of the book and their relevance to the Brexit situation today.

Yes,” chirruped Paschal, because he’s read the book.

But no.

Music-head Paschal has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums

“The last three words are ‘Trieste, Zurich and Paris’,”declared Dan, pointing to the significance of Joyce going to the trouble of writing down that his novel was written in three different European cities at a time of great conflict and change.

Even “the humble reader like myself” can discover the layers and depths in Joyce’s great work, said the president of the Eurogroup, quoting from a “lovely essay” by Anne Enright which he read in the New York Review of Books last year. “Ulysses invites meaning then throws it back at you, multiplied.”

And, as a Ulysses novice, he hailed the veteran diplomat’s book as “a compass to help us on the changing journey that each read offers”.

Mind you, music-head Paschal – a regular reviewer on these pages – has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums. He must have achieved it because he is now moving on to The Beatles.

Where does he find the time?

A real beaut

Maybe Dan Mulhall’s next literary explainer might be a guide to interpreting and understanding the complex and sometimes baffling world of the parliamentary written reply.

Here’s one from this week in response to a question to the Minister for Finance by Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, who asked why the beauty industry is subject to a VAT rate of 13.5 per cent while the hairdressing sector pays a 9 per cent rate and if this anomaly can be rectified.

“The VAT rates applying in Ireland are subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. While hairdressing services apply the 9 per cent rate from 1 November 2020, services consisting of the care of the human body, including beauticians, are subject to the 13.5 per cent rate,” it stated.

“This arises from the fact that many of the goods and services to which Ireland applies a reduced rate of VAT, including services related to care of the human body, have their basis under an EU derogation that provides that as Ireland applied a reduced rate to these items on 1 January 1991, we are entitled to continue applying that reduced ate to those items. However, this is conditional on the rate being no less than 12 per cent. These are known as ‘parked’ items, and are provided for under Article 118 of the EU VAT directive. As the services provided by beauticians are part of these parked items, it is not possible for Ireland to apply the rate of 9 per cent to them.”

Parked items?

With this sort of stuff emanating from Paschal’s department, it’s no wonder he was able to finish Ulysses in under a year.


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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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