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Irish family of engineer held in Baghdad living a ‘nightmare’

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The Irish family of an engineer, who was arrested three weeks ago after being summoned to a meeting in Iraq, have spoken to him for the first time since his detention.

Co Roscommon-based Desree Pether said her husband, Robert Pether (46), an Australian citizen, was “terrified” when she spoke to him by phone on Tuesday and still had no idea what charge was being made against him. He had attended one court hearing which was conducted in Arabic and had spent two weeks in solitary confinement, she said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he had been made aware of the case, which was raised in the Seanad this week by Senator Eugene Murphy. “We will do everything we possibly can,” Mr Martin said on Wednesday. “We know this must be a very difficult time for his family. We’re working with the Australian government, which is taking the lead.” The Taoiseach said the Department of Foreign Affairs was working on the case.

Mr Pether is being detained with an Egyptian colleague who was arrested with him on April 7th, when they both turned up for a purported meeting in Baghdad with the governor of the Central Bank of Iraq.

“There was no meeting. There were no pleasantries. They were met by 12 security officers and arrested and marched to a compound,” said Ms Pether who is an Irish citizen. She said her husband was forced to hand over his phone, laptop and hard drive and had no idea if his family knew what had become of him. He spent two weeks in the suit he had worn to the meeting and “doesn’t even have a toothbrush”. However, she said her husband had reassured her that he was not being ill treated.

‘Pawns’

Ms Pether said the two men were “pawns in a game of chess” and were caught up in a dispute between their company and its client, the central bank. Mr Pether had been overseeing the construction of a new headquarters for the central bank in Baghdad, a project which is ongoing for four years.

Recently he had been working on a different project in Dubai but was asked to return to Baghdad to meet the governor to sort out the problems, Ms Pether explained.

“He rang the Australian embassy in Baghdad three days before he left Dubai and they assured him he would be safe,” she said.

Ms Pether said her husband “feels betrayed” and told her the Australian embassy had done nothing. She said all the information she had been getting from Baghdad was coming through the family of his Egyptian colleague.

“Rob knows even less than we do. He doesn’t know where he is being held,” she said. Her husband “has done nothing wrong” and had in fact been praised for the way the project, which he had overseen for four years, had progressed, she said.

Robert Pether, who is detained in Iraq, with his wife, Desree.
Robert Pether, who is detained in Iraq, with his wife, Desree.

Mr Pether was allowed access to a phone after 20 days when the Egyptian embassy arranged a visit for his colleague, according to his wife whose late father is from Dublin and who was raised in Australia. The family has been living in Elphin, Co Roscommon for two years.

Mr Pether arrived in Baghdad from Dubai on April 1st and continued to work on the project until April 7th when he went as arranged to a lunchtime meeting. Ms Pether said her husband, who normally texted her several times a day and rang the family every evening, was very emotional when he unexpectedly got to speak to her this week.

“When I told him his case had been raised in the Seanad he cried. He felt so hopeless and he is so touched at the support in Ireland. ” Mr Pether was “beside himself” about his children and especially his eldest son Flynn who was doing his Leaving Cert, she added.

Mr Pether was due home in Elphin this week to celebrate his birthday with his wife and three children, Flynn (17), Oscar (15) and Nala (8). Both Flynn and Oscar are Irish citizens and Ms Pether said Nala and Robert were applying for Irish citizenship but Covid-19 had slowed the process .

Ms Pether said it was “like living your worst nightmare. It’s like being in a Hollywood blockbuster. I keep waking up every morning thinking it was a bad dream.”

The central bank building was the last one designed by the celebrated British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid who died in 2016.


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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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