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One person dead, rail links cut to Vancouver port

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Floods and landslides that have killed at least one person have cut all rail access to Canada’s largest port in the city of Vancouver, a spokesperson for the port said on Tuesday.

Two days of torrential rain across the Pacific province of British Columbia touched off major flooding and shut rail routes operated by Canadian Pacific Rail and Canadian National Railway, Canada’s two biggest rail companies.

“All rail service coming to and from the Port of Vancouver is halted because of flooding in the British Columbia interior,” port spokesperson Matti Polychronis said.

At least one person was killed when a mudslide swept cars off Highway 99 near Pemberton, some 160km (100 miles) to the northeast of Vancouver.

Two people were missing and search and rescue crews were combing through the rubble, officials said.

Vancouver’s port moves 550 million Canadian dollars (€387.6 million) worth of cargo a day, ranging from automobiles and finished goods to essential commodities.

The floods temporarily shut down much of the movement of wheat and canola from Canada, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters, during a busy time for trains to haul grain to the port following the harvest.

Drought has sharply reduced the size of Canada’s crops this year, meaning a rail disruption of a few days may not create a significant backlog, a grain industry source told Reuters.

Del Dosdall, senior export manager at grain handler Parrish & Heimbecker, said he expected some rail services could be restored by the weekend. Another industry source said he expected the shutdown to last weeks.

A woman and children who were stranded by high water due to flooding are rescued by a volunteer operating a boat.Photograph: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
A woman and children who were stranded by high water due to flooding are rescued by a volunteer operating a boat.Photograph: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP

Pipelines

Floods have also hampered pipelines. Enbridge Inc shut a segment of a British Columbia natural gas pipeline as a precaution.

The storms also forced the closure of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries up to 300,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta province to the Pacific coast.

Copper and coal miner Teck Resources Limited said the floods had disrupted movement of its commodities to its export terminals, while potash exporter Canpotex Ltd said it was looking for alternatives to move the crop nutrient overseas.

Directly to the south of British Columbia, in the US state of Washington, heavy rain forced evacuations and cut off electricity for more than 150,000 households on Monday.

The US National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a flash flood in Mount Vernon, Washington, “due to the potential for a levee failure.”

Some areas of British Columbia received 20cm (8 inches) of rain on Sunday, the amount that usually falls in a month.

Authorities in Merritt, some 200km (120 miles) northeast of Vancouver, ordered all 8,000 citizens to leave on Monday as river waters rose quickly, but some were still trapped in their homes on Tuesday, said city spokesman Greg Lowis.

Snow blanketed the town on Tuesday and some cars could be seen floating in the flood waters up to 1.22m (4 feet) deep.

The towns of Chilliwack and Abbotsford ordered partial evacuations.

Abbotsford also issued an emergency warningon Tuesday night, asking all residents to evacuate the Sumas Prairie region immediately as deteriorating conditions posed a significant threat to lives.

Rescuers equipped with diggers and body-sniffing dogs started clearing mounds of debris that have choked highways.

The landslides and floods come less than six months after a wildfires gutted an entire town in British Columbia as temperatures soared during a record-breaking heat dome, raising new worries about climate change. – Reuters

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External investigation into Department ‘champagne party’ needed – Minister

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Minister of State Anne Rabbitte has called for an external investigation into a “champagne party” held by staff in the Department of Foreign Affairs staff in June 2020.

The gathering, which appeared to breach Covid-19 guidance in place at the time, was “inexcusable” and Minister Simon Coveney and his department have further questions to answer, the Fianna Fáil TD told Saturday with Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One.

“Having a champagne reception in any government department at that time, I know over in the Department of Health where they worked tirelessly for 23, 24 hours a day, it was far from champagne they were having,” she said.

Ms Rabbitte said an internal report conducted by the department’s current secretary general was not a satisfactory way to handle the matter.

“It’s still within the same department, and we know the answer we will get. I would be one for openness and transparency … it has to be [an external report].”

She added that all departments needed to learn from the mistake.

Officials were photographed in the department celebrating Ireland’s election onto the UN Security Council, and the image was posted on Twitter by the then secretary general Niall Burgess. The tweet was later deleted. At the time of the event, there were strict restrictions on the size of gatherings due to Covid-19.

Speaking on the same programme, Labour TD Duncan Smith said people were angered at the event because June 2020 was a bleak time for most people in Ireland. He said the public had seen other incidents where politicians and others were accused of breaching Covid-19 restrictions.

“These are the elites of society … what has really hurt people is that it really got to the ‘we are all in this together’ philosophy.”

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane agreed there needed to be an independent review of the matter, adding that Mr Coveney needed to come before an Oireachtas committee and the Dáil to gave a “frank and full account” of what happened.

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Dog-owners bite back at beach rules

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Following a series of reports that An Taisce is leading the battle to ban dogs from the State’s 83 blue-flag beaches, the organisation’s Ian Diamond is feeling misunderstood.

“I don’t hate dogs”, Mr Diamond says, pointing out that Blue Flag International – the global body which governs the coveted awards – warned last year that some qualifying beaches were not honouring long-standing rules.

Under what’s known as Criterion 23, the rules declare that beach access “by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled” and that they be allowed only in “the parking areas, walkways and promenades in the inland beach areas”.

Faced with the reminder, Mr Diamond said he requested last year that local authorities get more time, as it was “not something that can be introduced immediately in the middle of a pandemic when people are under other restrictions.

“You can’t exactly introduce these things overnight, so we were flagging that,” he said, adding that Blue Flag told them to speak to people seeking blue flag status and “come back with proposals” that comply with the rule.

The issue came to national attention following a meeting of Kerry County Council this week, though it was understood then that the rule was an An Taisce demand, rather than being a Blue Flag International obligation.

Dogs and horses

Consequently, Kerry County Council now propose that dogs or horses will not be allowed on blue-flag beaches from 11am-7pm between June 1st and September 15th, or otherwise the county could lose its 14 blue flags.

However, the restrictions are unpopular with some dog-owners: “There’s a lot more important things to be worrying about than dogs on a beach,” said David Walsh, as he walked his pet, Oreo, on Salthill beach.

Dog-owners in Salthill are already not allowed to bring their dogs onto the beach between 9am and 8pm between May 1st and September 30th each year, in line with Blue Flag International’s rules, though penalties are rare.

Mr Diamond says a national application of the rules at blue-flag beaches would not “strictly prohibit dogs being on the beach” during bathing season, outside of peak hours.

Bathing season

“The blue-flag criteria would apply from June 1st to September 15th, within peak usage hours, so bathing hours – that would be mid-morning to early evening,” said the An Taisce officer.

“What it requires is that there would be rules in place in relation to dogs that say [they] should not be in the blue-flag area within those hours and within the bathing season,” Mr Diamond said.

The restriction is based on public health grounds and dates back to 2003: “Dog faeces actually contain a lot of the micro-organisms that cause illness in the same way that human waste would,” he said.

“There’s no zero-tolerance approach to this. If rules are going to be brought in, then people will be consulted as well, you know, brought in unilaterally, and it’s down to the councils responsible for the beaches to bring those in.”

Not everyone disagrees with An Taisce, or Blue Flag: “I don’t think dogs should be on the beach, because of the kids and all that. And a lot of people don’t pick up their poo afterwards,” said a man on Salthill beach.

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Jail for banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on Christmas shopping trip to Belfast

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A banned motorist from Limerick caught driving on a Christmas shopping trip to Belfast has been jailed for seven months.

Police also discovered three of Leeanne McCarthy’s children not wearing seat belts when her car was stopped on the Westlink dual carriageway.

The 41-year-old mother-of-eight initially gave officers a false identity, prosecutors said.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard a PSNI patrol car stopped the Ford Focus on November 26th last year.

McCarthy, with an address at Clonlough in Limerick, provided a different name and claimed she did not have her licence with her.

However, checks revealed that a month earlier she had been banned from driving for five years.

A Crown lawyer said: “Three young children were in the rear of the vehicle, none of them wearing seat belts.”

McCarthy initially claimed they only removed the safety restraints when the car came to a halt, the court heard.

Police were told that she took over driving duties from another daughter who had been tired and nearly crashed the vehicle.

McCarthy was convicted of driving while disqualified, having no insurance, obstructing police and three counts of carrying a child in the rear of a vehicle without a seat belt.

Her barrister, Turlough Madden, said she had travelled to Belfast for Christmas shopping.

Counsel told the court McCarthy spent the festive period in custody, missing out on sharing it with her eight children and four grandchildren.

“That’s been a wake-up call and significant punishment for her,” Mr Madden submitted.

“She is a mother who simply wants to go back to Limerick and not return to Northern Ireland.”

Sentencing McCarthy to five months imprisonment for the new offences, District Judge George Conner imposed a further two months by activating a previous suspended term.

Mr Conner also affirmed the five-year disqualification period and fined her £300 (€350) for the seat belt charges.

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