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New additions make squad representative of a diverse Ireland

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It’s a small world. Isreal Ibeanu is a soccer referee in Dublin who also trains Irish sprinters of African descent. Last weekend his Titans athletics club had Koadchima Ogbene competing in the 100 metres in Belfast.

“With literally no training he ran 11.35,” says Ibeanu, who recently spoke to BBC Newsnight about the violent deaths of his friends and former Isaka Glentoran FC teammates George Nkencho and Toyosi Shittabey.

“It was nowhere near his personal best, which is 10.80 and that’s because he isn’t getting any support to allow him to train. But it was a good day out.

“You might have heard about his little brother . . . ”

Chiedozie Ogbene just broke into the Republic of Ireland senior squad. To call him a late bloomer at 24 would be hotly contested by Mick O’Dwyer’s son.

“Ah the legend of Chiedozie,” says Robbie O’Dwyer, a long serving mentor with Nemo Rangers. “If he stuck to the GAA he would have played for Cork. He had everything – pace, skill, fielding ability. He could even run and read the play.”

Wait now, are we talking about Ogbene or Brian Fenton?

“If only you saw him. We had an Under-21 final in 2015, we were playing Valley Rovers up in Pairc Ui Rinn. He was 18 at the time. From midfield he got 1-2 from play.

Shane Duffy and Chiedozie Ogbene during a training session in Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Shane Duffy and Chiedozie Ogbene during a training session in Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

“We drew the match and for the replay people came from all over the county, as they had heard about this fella, Chi-Doz-Ee.”

The masses went home disappointed.

“He was tied to Cork City and we had asked for him to be released for the final. We couldn’t have him for the replay, which was a huge loss to us at the time.” Nemo were beaten.

Ogbene was born in Lagos but the Rotherham United right winger accentuates his Corkness as much as anyone raised in the Rebel County, although it took longer to establish this as legal fact due to Fifa’s administrative labyrinth.

History books

Gavin Bazunu is from Firhouse in Dublin, born to a Nigerian father and an Irish mother. The Manchester City goalkeeper, currently on loan to Rochdale, became Shamrock Rovers’ youngest ever player in June 2018 at 16 years and 109 days.

“There was one moment when we walked out of the ground thinking, ‘right, ok,’” remembers Shane Robinson, Rovers academy director. “It was an Under-19s shield final. Gav was only 15 and we had a couple of injuries and we threw him in.

“He is a mannerly kid but I saw him having rows with the Under-19 defenders about protecting his goal. His info was right and he wouldn’t back down.”

Bazunu’s debut for the Republic of Ireland last March, in the 1-0 loss to Luxembourg at Lansdowne Road, will forever illuminate the history books.

“When the first shot went in we were nervous for him,” says Robinson. “The academy had never had someone who played for the first team and gone on to be capped at international level. I think the commentator said it was a nice easy one but it hopped right in front of him, and he killed it.

“How he dealt with the occasion was the same as how he dealt with his debut for our Under-15s, Under-17s, Under-19s. That calming presence, no matter what team he plays with, means defenders trust him. That’s hard to teach.”

Shamrock Rovers permanent move to Tallaght in 2009 offered the club a sprawling, multi-cultural catchment area to recruit from.

“Across our 250 players there are lots of mixed race boys but they are from Tallaght, they are Irish,” Robinson insists. “We transfer players over from Corduff, which is a similar area with similar background of kids, so they can train. I know they won’t be here if we do not do that because the families do not have the means.

“That’s the other side of the story you are writing about – the game can’t be just about taking registration fees and making money,” Robinson continues. “In the last 30, 40 years that’s effectively what it was all about. Even developing a player to sell him to make a few quid or take the reg fees off a thousand kids.

“That money didn’t really get invested anywhere. It’s another article, but the funding element is something we have to look at, properly.”

Rovers paid €6,500 for Bazunu to complete his leaving certificate at Ashfield College parallel to his professional career taking flight at Man City.

Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu is a calm presence between the posts. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu is a calm presence between the posts. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

“Gavin and others did go away but Brexit means that is not going to be happening as much. It is important we treat it serious here and give kids the best opportunity.”

Another brewing issue is the quicker physical development of players with African parents.

“We need to put our heads together because it is not going to stop,” Robinson adds. “I see the talent coming through at Under-14, Under-15 and we have to make sure that others are not lost.

“There are more Andrew’s and more Gavin’s coming through. That’s the really good side of it but we just need to stop all the shite that goes with it around the country.”

Ibeanu offers a wider perspective: “It does not feel like the community is coming together because, I feel, they feel like it is a black problem. It is not for the community to deal with as it is not affecting the white Irish population.

“It effects them when their kid comes home crying because they didn’t get to play today because the manager dropped them for a black player.

“So then the parents come in saying ‘why is my kid not playing?’ and they put pressure on the manager to play them.”

Bias

He suggests that every coach in every club undergoes mandatory training in unconscious bias.

“And the course cannot be given by a white guy, it is given by a black person.”

Andrew Omobamidele, born to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, is from Leixlip in north county Kildare. The Norwich City centre back turns 19 this month, just in time to play Premier League football next season.

“Andrew has this Rolls Royce look about him,” says Kenny Molloy, his coach at Leixlip United. “I remember playing in our first ever All Ireland semi final against the best team in the country, which was St Joseph’s Boys. We were up against it, got beaten one-nil, but we would have lost by more only Andrew was absolutely superb.

“After the game I was asked to step outside the dressing room and the Manchester United scout, Larry Dunne, who passed away recently, God rest him, pulled me over to ask about Andrew.”

It was the easiest conversation Molloy ever had. “You are biased towards your own lads but it was massive to hear Larry say, ‘there is a small bit of Paul McGrath in him’ physically, but also the way he plays.

“I see Andrew going all the way to the top and I’ve probably been afraid to say that out loud. If he gets that bit of luck. He hasn’t had a lot of it. He has sat in my sitting room hearing about other clubs not taking him to England.

“But I do think he is different to what we have had before. He’s a modern centre half who can play through the thirds. Van Dijk has made it all sexy now, hasn’t he?”

Molloy cannot deny the racism he has witnessed in the Dublin District schoolboys league.

“We were a very close team with half the lads of African descent. That became normal for us at the club. It does become a concern as they get older because they become aware of what is being said on the sideline.”

Adam Idah was born and raised in Cork to a Nigerian father and Irish mother. He played for College Corinthians until entering the Norwich City academy in 2017 at age 16.

“He started with us at under six,” remembered ‘Mr Corinthians’ Terry O’Donovan. “A tall, gangly young fella. A really nice, easy going lad, but with electric pace.

“When he filled out he became too strong for a lot of kids his age. Ball over the top, bang.

“One other great asset is that he can strike a ball with either foot. He didn’t have to learn the finer points of the game until he went up the levels and got better coaching in the Ireland under 15 and 16 squads. That brought him on an awful lot.”

Again, O’Donovan has witnessed the first generation of Irish-African children growing up on the city’s pitches.

“Over the years we would play Dublin teams in the national cup. Cherry Orchard would always come down with a big, powerful centre forward.

“The lad with West Ham now, Mipo [ODUBEKO], played in two national cup finals against us for Joeys. It was under 14s but he was built like an adult out on the left wing. They do mature a lot earlier than Irish boys. Put everyone’s attributes together and you will come up with a good team.

“They are generally great young fellas but there may be social factors that prevent all these lads from going on to play with League of Ireland clubs.”

Social factors?

“There are no career opportunities for them. There would be a drop off at 16 of lads playing but the black lads drop off in far greater numbers. That is a terrible pity.”

The Irish men of Nigerian descent in Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland squad would rise to six if Dublin born Premier League strikers Mipo Odubeko and Michael Obafemi were available.

These numbers are only going to rise.

Racism

Toyosi Shittabey was stabbed to death in 2010. George Nkencho was shot by an armed Garda outside his front door in December 2020.

BBC Newsnight also spoke to Ken McCue, the guiding hand behind Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari), about losing two players from the same Insaka Glentoran FC underage team in such harrowing circumstances.

Describing Garda Sergeant Vincent Connolly as one of Insaka’s “three musketeers without weapons,” when Connolly was moved out of Blanchardstown station and stopped travelling to matches in uniform the relations, McCue states, between the police and “the young lads on the street” in the Dublin 15 area suffered “a huge slump.”

Racial profiling of black males is something An Garda Síochána flatly deny, but Omobamidele recently said: “You cannot hide from racial profiling because it is true and it is there in plain sight.”

Last month RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live took up the baton with an entire show dedicated to being young, black and Irish.

Republic of Ireland players Cyrus Christie, Darren Randolph and Idah contributed with Christie’s horrendous experience on social media after defeat to the Denmark in 2018, when someone created an online petition to have him lynched, still leaves a bitter taste in the 28-year old’s mouth.

“The Garda didn’t really do too much about it,” said Christie. “I think it was more to look like they were doing something rather than to make a change and help and put the situation first, even though all the evidence was in front of them.”

Claire Byrne turned to Bashir Otukoya, an assistant professor in DCU’s school of law and government, to ask if Ireland has a serious problem with racism and policing.

“It is a major issue,” Otukoya replied. “It needs to be addressed almost immediately if we are to have that security and that support.

“There is always this denial of the real pandemic in our society, that is racism, and we need to address it and we need to start from our very foundation of support in this country and that is An Garda Síochána. Because we need to have trust in them.”

Next, Assistant Garda Commissioner Paula Hilman – who spent 34 years in the PSNI – spoke about an “enhanced training package” that will be rolled out by 2022.

Emer O’Neill, the teacher and broadcaster sitting in studio, wondered aloud: “If the organisation itself is possibly racist all the training in the world will make no difference.”

Dialogue has never been so important, Otukoya informed The Irish Times.

“We have to filter what we say so that we don’t inconvenience others. In academic language this is called ‘white fragility.’ But everybody needs to get comfortable talking about race.

“The Ireland squad is representative of a diverse Ireland and it is great to see and it is great for the country but underneath this is the fact that although we are seeing a sense of belonging, we are still restricted from being ourselves.”

Professor Otukoya is aware of a “huge recruitment drive for ethnic minority people” by the guards from his role on the government’s anti-racism committee but it is his answer to a straight question about whether An Garda Síochána is institutionally racist that cannot be ignored.

“It is ok to say that the Gardaí are institutionally racist. That is what I do not understand. It is almost as if we are not allowed to say that, as if it is an offence.

“We first have to call it out so we can address the problem. I am not saying it is deliberate. I know Gardaí, I have worked with Gardaí, I am teaching Gardaí so I know they are operating under a process that they have been taught.

“That process is devoid of considerations for diversity because of the way our institutions have risen from 100 years ago, when the state was created, and before that we were under the British system, and you can still see a resemblance of that in our laws, so unless we address institutional racism, which is in most of our public institutions, if not all of them . . .

“Why are we so insistent not to say we have problems with institutional racism when countries such as the UK, the US, the Netherlands – huge countries who have dealt with immigration for years – can admit to institutional racism and are doing something about it?

“Why are we, when we are so new to diversity, saying ‘No, we can’t say that.’ It is perplexing. That is not to say we are being deliberately racist but they do not understand that what they are doing is being racist. That is the point.”

If the Christie situation reoccurred this week, have there been any changes in policing to ensure the perpetrator would be punished?

“There hasn’t been any significant change,” Otukoya concludes. “Not enough to say we are happy, that this is our home where we feel safe and protected.

“There is so much work to be done.”

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Inside the tiny ‘smart home’ that will be sold in London for less than £300k

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Making homes affordable for first-time buyers is a problem that does not have one easy solution.  

With house prices having risen rapidly since the start of the pandemic, many are finding themselves priced out – especially in inner cities. 

But major housebuilder Barratt Homes thinks it has found a way for young people to climb on to the housing ladder without breaking the bank. 

The living area in Barratt's 'SMRT' home. The apartment comes in at just 37 square metres

The living area in Barratt’s ‘SMRT’ home. The apartment comes in at just 37 square metres

At its Eastman Village development in Harrow, North London,  it has built a tiny home measuring just 37 square metres or 400 sq ft. 

It may have the smallest floor plan that can be built under the Government’s minimum space standards, but Barratt describes the flat as ‘a forward-thinking luxury product that is perfectly proportioned’. 

Although the apartments might charitably be described as ‘cosy,’ the price is right, with homes starting at £290,000. This is £40,000 cheaper than the standard Barratt home in London. 

It says the tiny homes are designed to ‘help ease the squeeze experienced by London’s “generation rent”, who face ever-rising property prices and rental costs’. 

According to Halifax’s latest house price index, the average house price in London is currently £508,000; a figure which has increased by around £25,000 since the start of the pandemic. 

Barratt is calling the new design a ‘SMRT’ home, and launched off-plan sales at the development in Harrow at the weekend. 

If it is successful, it could roll out the pocket-sized apartments across the country – and prices outside of London would likely be even lower.  

This is Money went on a tour of the show apartment, and spoke to Barratt’s senior sales manager Joseph Antoniazzi about whether this is really what first-time buyers want. 

The flats have been designed by Barratt’s in-house design team, BD Living, and Blocc Interiors.  

They have aimed to make the most of what little space is available, for example by adding a built-in storage unit with shelves and cupboards around the bed, and a kitchen storage cupboard that houses the washer dryer but also has room for other bulky items such as a hoover or ironing board. 

According to Barratt, small is beautiful. Its marketing material for the apartments says: 

‘While the square footage may be smaller on paper, the illusion of space created by wide balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, and clever interior layouts, means the apartments feel open, optimised, and modern. 

‘Storage in every nook and cranny means there is no need for clunky furniture like wardrobes, sideboards, and drawers.’ 

The bedroom in the SMRT home has storage for clothes built all the way around it

The bedroom in the SMRT home has storage for clothes built all the way around it 

The kitchen cupboards have pull-out shelves to store canned food and spices, and the worktops are slimmer than average to maximise the floor space, as is the dishwasher. 

‘We have maximised every inch and made sure the space is really functional,’ said Antoniazzi. 

There is space for a small dining table in between the kitchen area and living room. Antoniazzi says they initially installed a table that folded out from the wall, but that potential buyers did not respond well to it so it was changed.  

For those working from home, there is the option to have an ‘office niche’ which consists of a desk and storage in the living room, side-by-side with the television. 

The 'office niche' in the living area provides a small space in which to work from home

The ‘office niche’ in the living area provides a small space in which to work from home

Although this may work for a single person, it could present a challenge for a couple that were both working at home.

There is also the option to have a small dressing table in the bedroom, though this would need to sit behind the door. 

In the bathroom, there is a well-sized shower cubicle, which Antoniazzi said buyers preferred to a bath.  

The outdoor terrace is small, with room for two chairs and a small table, but it backs on to a larger shared garden which gives the illusion of space. 

The apartment comes with a small terrace which backs on to a larger shared garden

The apartment comes with a small terrace which backs on to a larger shared garden

For flats on upper floors, there would instead be a balcony.

Antoniazzi said the homes were designed for first-time buyers, key workers and students, and acknowledged that they would not be suitable for a family. 

‘It is very much first-time buyer driven,’ he said, adding that lifestyle changes during the pandemic had seen families move out of locations like Harrow to the countryside, and be replaced by renters from central London – as people from across the spectrum sought to move up a level in terms of space. 

‘Post-lockdown, we saw a change in the type of buyer that was coming to view our apartments in Harrow. 

‘Whereas previously it was couples and young families, we saw the profile change towards people who had previously been renting in central London and didn’t want to waste money on rent any more.’

The storage cupboard in the kitchen provides some space for household essentials

The storage cupboard in the kitchen provides some space for household essentials

He said the idea for the micro-apartments came from the fact that many of these potential buyers had saved up during the pandemic and were keen to get on the housing ladder, but needed something more affordable than the market average. 

Antoniazzi also said the small homes could become a more popular way of getting on the housing ladder when the Government’s Help to Buy scheme ends in 2023.  

Barratt has said that, if buyers respond well to these micro-apartments, they could build more in cities across the country. 

The apartments could work well for single occupiers, who often struggle to get a large enough mortgage because of salary requirements. 

Living there as a couple could be a squeeze – but the success of the SMRT homes will reveal whether first-time buyers think that is a price worth paying to get on the ladder.

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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Family of Covid patient who left hospital urges people to follow ‘proper’ medical advice

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The family of a Covid-19 patient who last week left Letterkenny University Hospital after being encouraged by anti-vaccine campaigners has criticised those involved and encouraged people to follow “proper” medical advice.

Joe McCarron, from Dungloe, was the subject of a viral video in which a group of people insisted that he be released from the hospital, despite medical staff stating this would worsen his condition.

He left on Tuesday but returned to the hospital on Thursday in an ambulance. A spokesperson for his family on Sunday said Mr McCarron was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit but was showing signs of recovering despite Covid-19 having caused him “serious lung damage”.

They said Mr McCarron’s wife, Una, “would like to thank the staff and apologise for the actions of Joe’s so-called reckless friends earlier in the week.

“They did not help Joe’s recovery in any way. We would encourage everyone to follow proper medical advice.”

The family offered its thanks to those who had sent messages of support.

In the video, one activist said he was “rescuing” Mr McCarron and falsely claimed that treatment in the hospital would “kill” him.

One staff member told the man that leaving the hospital would risk “endangering” his life, but the activist said it would be better if he were to “die in the house than he dies here”.

Mr McCarron, who appeared to be struggling to breathe in the footage, then agreed to return home and was later shown in a video posted on social media saying that he felt much better and accusing the hospital of mistreating him.

In a statement last week, a spokeswoman for Saolta Hospital Group (SHG) which oversees Letterkenny Hospital, said it could not comment on individual cases, citing its legal and ethical obligations regarding patient confidentiality.

The group has previously said it is “gravely concerned” by a number of recent incidents in which groups of activists have attempted to spread disinformation about Covid-19 at hospitals.

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How to get the Warm Home Discount and why you should act fast

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Could YOU save £140 on energy bills with the Warm Home Discount? Some suppliers have opened applications… but you should act quickly

  • Thousands could save £140 on their energy bills through a Government scheme 
  • We reveal whether you could be eligible for the Warm Home Discount 
  • We also asked suppliers whether their applications are open yet  
  • Can you save money? Try our Compare the Market powered energy comparison 










Thousands of households are eligible to receive £140 off their energy bill this winter through the Warm Home Discount.

Low income homes and those receiving their pension could see a significant chunk taken off their bills if they sign up to the scheme in the next few weeks.

This will be particularly important as the new energy price cap level is set to kick in at the beginning of October, rising bills for millions of customers.

Customers are encouraged to apply as soon as their supplier opens applications as there is a limited number of discounts to go around. 

Thousands are eligible to receive £140 off their energy bill through the Warm Home Discount

Thousands are eligible to receive £140 off their energy bill through the Warm Home Discount

Several providers have said they will offer the discounts on a first come, first served basis meaning eligible households should act fast.  

This is Money has detailed exactly what the Warm Home Discount is, how you can apply and which energy suppliers have started taking applications for the scheme.

What is the scheme?

Eligible households could get £140 off their electricity bill for winter 2021 to 2022 under the Warm Home Discount Scheme which officially opens on 18 October 2021.

The money is not paid directly to customers but instead is a one-off discount on a home’s electricity bill between October and March.

Customers may be able to get the discount on their gas bill instead if their supplier provides them with both gas and electricity and should contact their provider to find out.

Am I eligible?

You could be eligible if you get the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit – known as the ‘core group’.

If you are in this category, you will receive a letter between October and December 2021 telling you how to get the discount if you qualify.

Your electricity supplier will apply the discount to your bill by 31 March 2022.

If you have not received a letter and think you are eligible, contact your energy provider.  

Customers could also be eligible if they are on a low income and meet their energy supplier’s criteria for the scheme – known as the ‘broader group’.

If in this category, you will have to apply for the discount through your provider which will decide who is eligible or not.

As the number of discounts is limited, customers are encouraged to apply as early as possible to ensure they can take advantage of the scheme.

Households can still qualify for the discount if they use a pre-pay or pay-as-you-go electricity meter.

Suppliers will tell you how you will get the discount if you’re eligible, for example a voucher you can use to top up your meter.

A number of providers have already opened their applications for the discount scheme

A number of providers have already opened their applications for the discount scheme

Which energy suppliers have opened applications?

Ovo, which also looks after SSE, said it doesn’t yet have a firm scheme opening date but it’s likely to be later this month.

It added its advice to customers at the moment would be to register their interest online and it will be sure to contact them with more information as soon as the scheme is open. 

British Gas said its scheme for 2021/22 is now open and customers can apply. 

EDF added its scheme is also now open and customers can apply on their website. 

The supplier said it encourages customers to apply as soon as possible as the scheme will be closed once it hits its maximum number of applications. 

It added it anticipates applying the rebate to eligible customers accounts by the end of February 2022. 

Octopus Energy said it has already opened its applications now. 

There is no specific deadline for applications but it will be mentioning the scheme to customers who might be able to benefit from being in the broader group. 

Bulb said customers in the broader group for the Warm Home Discount can now register their interest on its website and it will email them when applications open later this month.

It added it processes applications on a first come, first served basis so it encourages members to register their interest as soon as they can. 

Eon is now taking applications and is encouraging customers to apply as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Eon Next’s scheme will open in the coming weeks, but customers can register interest on the website now and it will contact them when it opens. 

Scottish Power added its applications had been open since 10 August.  

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