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Murder and rape trials postponed as new judges not yet available, High Court president says

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The president of the High Court has said she has “no option” but to cancel a “substantial amount” of trials and hearings scheduled for October as it appears newly appointed judges will be unable to sit before November because they have not yet got their warrants of appointment.

The trials affected include all asylum cases listed up to October 29th, some personal injuries trials listed for hearing in Limerick, planning cases and, possibly, some lengthy rape and murder trials.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine said the consequence of the criminal division of the High Court being short two judges for October will be the “probable postponement” of a number of lengthy criminal trials, “most likely murder or rape trials”.

She said she fully understood the hardship, upset and distress this will cause to all those affected, litigants, their lawyers, victims and accused persons, but she had “no option”.

She was “acutely aware” of the distress the cancellation of criminal trials will have on the victims of crime impacted by the decision and on the accused, particularly those in custody who are presumed to be innocent.

She could do no more than assure all those affected she would do everything she can to have the cases relisted as soon as possible in 2022. “For now, regrettably, the court’s diary is full well into the new year.”

Speaking in court on Friday, she said the Government had last April made a “welcome” announcement of its intention to legislate to provide five additional judges for the High Court.

It was reasonable to assume those five would be in place for the start of the new legal year on Monday next, October 4th, and it was also reasonable to assume a number of other judges who had retired or been promoted in the intervening period would be replaced, she said.

“Unfortunately, these assumptions have proven to be misplaced.”

In fact, she said, the High Court will now start the new legal year with seven judges short of the complement it was assured it would have last April.

The latest information from the Department of Justice lead her to believe it will very likely be November before the new judges will have received their warrants and be in a position to sit, with the “slight possibility” two of them may be available to sit in the last week in October.

In the circumstances, having delayed her decision as long as possible, she had no option but to cancel a substantial amount of work scheduled for October , almost all of which was to be dealt with by the additional judges.

She said the case of Addie & Sweetman v An Bord Pleanála in the planning list was cancelled and further cancellations in that list will be announced on October 14th.

All asylum cases between now and October 29th are cancelled and an announcement regarding any further cancellations will be made on October 21st.

Because only one judge, instead of two, can be allocated to hear 120 personal injuries actions listed for hearing in Limerick between October 18th and 29th, all actions not commenced or otherwise dealt with on the second day of their listings will be cancelled and rescheduled for hearing in the next law term opening in January 2022.

An announcement concerning cancellation of cases between October 11th-29th in the chancery and non-jury lists will be made on October 7th.

In relation to criminal cases, the judge said bail applications cannot be cancelled due to the constitutional rights of those concerned and extradition cases must proceed in line with European law obligations and because many affected are in custody.

The effect of the criminal division being short two judges in October will mean the probable postponement of lengthy criminal trials, most likely murder or rape trials, she said. The court would concentrate on keeping most of the shorter trials in place, subject to affording priority to particularly sensitive trials involving sexual offences involving juveniles and young vulnerable witnesses.

Because a trial may collapse or there may be a last-minute guilty plea, criminal trials will not be cancelled immediately but will be cancelled on a day-to-day basis as and when that need arises, she said. This was the best decision that could be made “ in the present unprecedented circumstances”.

Notices will appear in the courts’ legal diary and on the Courts Service website over the coming weeks concerning the cancellations.

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Nphet proposes cap on households mixing over Christmas period

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The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended that no more than four households should mix over the Christmas period.

Nphet met on Thursday to consider advice for the Government on the latest pandemic situation, at a time when Covid-19 case numbers have stabilised at a high level and further information on the Omicron variant is being awaited.

It last night sent a letter to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly which recommends a maximum of six people at a table in bars and restaurants, the closure of nightclubs and limits on households mixing.

The contents of the letter are expected to be discussed by Ministers and senior officials at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Friday.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the Government would move “as quickly as it can” to examine the latest recommendations from Nphet and to decide if further restrictions will be introduced. She said the Cabinet would need to be given time to “look at this advice and take it on board”.

During an interview on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms McEntee said the Government had to ensure it was clear about about what it would do in terms of restrictions and why before anything was announced.

“Of course if there are impacts on businesses at any stage of this…I hope people would agree that we haven’t left people wanting,” she said. “We have always responded where business has needed additional income. Where individuals have lost their jobs. We have always provided that support. This won’t be any different.”

Tests for travellers

Separately, the Government has notified airlines that the introduction of a system of PCR and antigen testing for passengers arriving into Ireland has been delayed by 48 hours.





Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU


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117

The measure was due to come into force on Friday, but Aer Lingus said airlines had been informed on Thursday night that the regulations would now begin on Sunday. All arrivals into the State – whether vaccinated or not – will need a negative Covid-19 test result from then onwards.

Those travelling with an antigen test result will need to have obtained it within 48 hours of arrival into Ireland, and it will have to be a professionally administered test.

No self-administered tests will be accepted under rules approved by Cabinet. Those with a PCR test result will have a longer pre-travel window of 72 hours before arrival. Persons arriving into the State from overseas who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 will be required also to have a certified negative test.

Hospitality sector meeting

Meanwhile, Government members are due to meet representatives of the hospitality industry on Friday. Ministers have said there will be supports for the sector if new pandemic measures will impact on their ability to trade.

Ms McEntee said she was particularly conscious that people had been asked to pull back and to reduce their social contacts.

“I am talking to businesses particularly in the hospitality sector and I know the impact that is having on them. This should be their busiest time and it’s not. We are taking this on board. We are going to support all of these businesses as we have always done during the pandemic,” she said.

The Minister dismissed suggestions that the Government was flip flopping or that there was confusion behind the scenes, saying the State is in a “fluid situation” because of the nature of Covid-19.

“What we have seen with the antigen test is that the market has corrected itself. That wasn’t a matter of flip flops or changing. We simply saw the market adjust itself. It is not about Government changing direction. We have to change direction sometimes because of the nature of this pandemic. Everybody is doing their best here,” she said.

‘Random and arbitrary’

Earlier, Maynooth University professor of immunology Paul Moynagh said the latest restrictions reportedly proposed by Nphet could lead to some benefits but seem ed “random and arbitrary”.

He told Newstalk Breakfast that “big mistakes” have been made with regard to messaging to the public.

“Back in September contact tracing was stood down the reason being that children were missing too much school. But we had the option of keeping contact tracing and using antigen testing. And there has been a resistance over the last year from Nphet in terms of using antigen testing,” he said.

“We saw over the last number of days the reluctance of Nphet again to impress advice from experts in the area of ventilation and air filtration. There seems to be this reluctance to accept scientific advice from outside.”

Prof Moynagh said there was a need to look at this reluctance and “learn from our mistakes”.

“Whereas at the moment it seems that mistakes are made and that narrative is defended. And again we end up now with new restrictions that I am not convinced are going to be very impactful,” he said.

“We know they are going to be highly impactful in terms of the sectors for example. I am not convinced by the strategy that is being used at the moment.”


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Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says

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Senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the government of Boris Johnson in the UK will face negative consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the Northern Ireland protocol, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.

She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood four square behind the Belfast Agreement and the protocol.

“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”

Asked about a report in the Financial Timed that Washington had delayed lifting tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products amid concerns about threats by the UK to invoke article 16 of the protocol, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.

However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”

Tariffs

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also in Washington DC on Thursday, said if the lifting of tariffs was being delayed due to concerns about the protocol, he would argue at a meeting with the US state department that it had “got it wrong” in its view on what article 16 was about.

“If people say we have to adhere to the protocol and article 16 is part of the protocol then it becomes a legitimate thing you can use.”

“It is not about whether you should or should not use it. It is about how you should use it.

“You should use it in a narrow sense of a particular issue that is causing economic or societal harm in Northern Ireland, for example, medicines .”

“If the medicine issue has not been fixed and is starting to affect the people of Northern Ireland, it would be right to instigate article 16 to focus minds on that issue.”

Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty in relation to killings during the Troubles.

She said the British government was going to the ultimate point to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.

She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.

Ms McDonald also forecast that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referenda would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Irish government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.

She also said “there will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification”.

Separately, asked about a recent Sinn Féin golf fundraising event that was held in New York, Ms McDonald said the money that was raised would be spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US.

She described it as a patriotic expression by people in the US who had a deep interest in Ireland and the peace process.

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Drop in cancer diagnoses as high as 14 per cent during pandemic, early data shows

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The drop in the number of cancers detected during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 14 per cent, preliminary data has suggested.

A report from the National Cancer Registry said it was still too early to provide “definitive answers” on whether pandemic hospital restrictions last year led to a reduction in the number of cancers diagnosed.

The registry’s annual report said an estimated decrease of 14 per cent in detections pointed to the “potential scale” of Covid-19’s impact on other healthcare.

A separate analysis of data on microscopically verified cancers diagnosed last year showed a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent, the report said.

The drop in confirmed cancer cases, when compared with previous years, could be partly accounted for by “incomplete registration of cases already diagnosed”, it said.

Prof Deirdre Murray, director of the National Cancer Registry, said there were “clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years”.

‘Very worried’

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said the organisation was “very worried” over the significant drop in cancers diagnosed last year.

The shortfall in cancers being diagnosed would present a “major challenge” in the coming years, with lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to screening services “all too commonplace” already, she said.

Ms Power said it was frightening to think of the people who were living with cancer but did not know it yet. She added that existing cancer patients were “terrified” of having treatments delayed due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.

The registry’s report said there were about 44,000 tumours identified each year between 2017 and 2019.

Not counting non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnoses were for breast and prostate cancer, which made up almost a third of invasive cancers found in women and men respectively.

For men this was followed by bowel and lung cancer, and melanoma of the skin. Lung cancer was the second most common cancer for women, followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma of skin.

Nearly a third of deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer, with lung cancer the leading cause of death from cancer, the report said.

The second, third and fourth most common cancers to die from in men were bowel, prostate and oesophagus cancer. For women breast, bowel and ovarian cancers were the most common fatal cancers.

The report said there were almost 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2019, with breast cancer patients making up more than a fifth of the total.

Mortality rates

The research found cancer rates among men had dropped between 2010 and 2019, with mortality rates decreasing or remaining the same across nearly every type of cancer. Rates of cancer detected among women had increased between 2008 and 2019, with mortality rates for most cancers decreasing.

The report said the five-year survival rate from cancer had increased to 65 per cent for the period 2014 to 2018, compared with 42 per cent two decades previous.

There had been “major improvement” in survival rates for most major cancers, however, the research noted the chances of survival varied significantly depending on the type of cancer.

Prostate, melanoma of the skin and testis cancer had survival rates of more than 90 per cent, followed closely by breast and thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Pancreas, liver, oesophagus and lung cancers had much lower five-year survival rates on average, the report said.

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