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‘Putting on a uniform does not make you immune to fear,’ former Garda chief says

Facing the centenary of the Garda Síochána, former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan believes the relationship the force has with the community, despite controversies, remains unique.

“Sometimes it can be very frustrating for onlookers, and indeed for people inside the organisation, the time it takes to deal with some of the issues.

“But working in partnership with the community will sustain us for the next hundred years. Despite all the perceived dysfunction, I think we compare very well,” she said in an interview with The Irish Times.

“We are appreciated more outside this jurisdiction than we are within it,” she said, mentioning the citations that come back when gardaí serve abroad in UN missions, or with Europol.

I wanted to do a lot, and I felt it was so badly needed. There was a real appetite for change, within the ordinary women and men

The relationship is based on foundations left by the first Garda commissioner, Michael Staines, who decided that the force should “succeed not by force of arms or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people”.

Speaking to mark the centenary of the force, O’Sullivan said the quality of its members, and its relationship with the community, sets it apart internationally.

Following her resignation in 2017, O’Sullivan went to New York to work as assistant general secretary for safety and security for the United Nations, a position she left in 2021.

Appointed as Garda commissioner in 2014, the first woman to fill the role, O’Sullivan said she set about introducing “deep-rooted cultural and structural reforms”.

However, she said that, on reflection, it may have been “too soon” for the organisation to accept that a woman who had risen from within the ranks should lead that change.

“I wanted to do a lot, and I felt it was so badly needed. There was a real appetite for change, within the ordinary women and men,” she said.

Her successor, Drew Harris, was in a position to benefit from the work that had been done identifying the reforms that were needed, she said.

These reforms were designed to ensure that “good people” were supported, while “rooting out the wrong ones, and that bad culture that needs to be dealt with”.

O’Sullivan spent a large part of her early Garda career involved in the fight against drug crime, rising to the rank of detective superintendent while doing so. “The criminals saw the money that could be made from drugs, and very quickly it spread out from Dublin, and became national, and then international.”

The Garda had to restructure nationally, and quickly develop “robust” relationships with other police forces. “That sort of internationalisation took place pretty quickly,” she said. “The globalisation of crime and the globalisation of terrorism means that there are no boundaries and no borders.”

The Garda had to be careful to help some of those who became enmeshed in the drugs trade, she said: “You need to be very careful not to criminalise users or people who are actually victims of very sophisticated drug networks and who have been intimidated. When you look at everything from punishment beatings to families who are intimidated into paying over money, there is a lot of victimisation that happens in that drugs/organised crime nexus that is not always that visible,” she said.

O’Sullivan saw this first-hand during the early 1980s: “Addiction was tearing families apart. I still meet people today who saw their families, their children, dying, and then their grandchildren become addicted. And then, on the other side, I know one particular woman, and her proudest claim is that she put all her grandchildren through college, even though her children had died from drugs.”

Undercover unit

When O’Sullivan joined the force in 1981 less than 1 per cent of gardaí were women. Following Templemore, she was sent to Store Street in Dublin 1, policing one of the most deprived urban communities on the island.

In her early twenties, she was chosen as a member of the Garda’s first undercover drugs unit, working with five others to get inside the “fortresses” that the criminal gangs set up as the heroin trade took hold.

Because it was the practice at the time for detectives to wear suits, shirts and ties, they “might as well have had a blue light flashing” when they approached flats complexes. “It wasn’t popular. We didn’t look like normal detectives, we didn’t wear suits and ties. We were dressed in street clothes, and it was very different and unusual at the time. Some people in traditional policing circles didn’t see the need for it.”

It was exciting work but dangerous, as the group posed as users wanting to buy drugs as a means to gather information about who was behind the supplies, making arrests along the way.

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at a concert at Slane Castle in 1984, with other members of an undercover unit called the ‘mockies’ that targeted drug crime in Dublin in the 1980s
Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at a concert at Slane Castle in 1984, with other members of an undercover unit called the ‘mockies’ that targeted drug crime in Dublin in the 1980s

She lists off the injuries, including bites, that her colleagues suffered when situations turned violent, before casually mentioning that she has a chipped tooth from a head-butt. Her husband, Jim McGowan, who was also part of the undercover team, suffered a skull fracture in one incident.

“We [the undercover team] worked really well together, and it was that whole thing of having a sense of purpose, trying to identify who were the main dealers, how to get in there, get the evidence to bring to court, and at the same time to make sure that the people who needed help got help.”

Dubbed the “mockies” – or mock drug addicts – the undercover unit was supported by the then detective inspector of the drugs squad, Dinny Mullins, and from the late Tommy O’Reilly, who was the superintendent in Store Street.

“I always felt that we as the police, and we as the unit that we were, that we owed the community a duty to do something about drug dealing, and to be seen to do something,” she said.

Later, as assistant commissioner crime and security, O’Sullivan had the lead role in national security and intelligence-led operations aimed at disrupting domestic and international terrorism and organised crime.

‘Archaic’ disciplinary procedures

She believes it is a strength of An Garda Síochána that it deals with both national security and regular policing. “The way we define terrorism needs to be the subject of a new conversation. There are [Republican] dissidents, international terrorism, terrorism financing, narco-terrorism, cyber terrorism. Once again it is all about protecting the community.”

Despite controversies, the Garda consistently has a high public trust rating of more than 85 per cent, a figure that is the envy of most other police forces, she said.

Supporting Harris’s anti-corruption policies, O’Sullivan warned that the Garda had to be vigilant to ensure that officers “struggling to pay a mortgage” are not tempted into wrongful behaviour.

“You have to be very proactive in making sure that you minimise the opportunities for any type of corruption that might be there. I think that is really, really important.”

The vetting of new recruits needs to be “robust”, and once in the force members need to be subject to supervision that is “almost intrusive”, she believes.

Asked if it is too difficult to fire a garda, she responded immediately that it is, adding that “archaic” disciplinary procedures must be modernised.

Nóirín O’Sullivan resigned from her role as Garda commissioner in 2017. Photograph: Alan Betson
Nóirín O’Sullivan resigned from her role as Garda commissioner in 2017. Photograph: Alan Betson

“No good police officer wants to be on a patrol, in a car, in any place with somebody that is known to be a rogue, or bad. They want to call out behavioural issues, and do the right thing, by and large. And I think there is an obligation on the organisation that structures be in place to support that and weed out wrongdoing, so as to address any behavioural issues very early on.”

Policing, and especially frontline policing, is a very stressful occupation, and on occasion members can have “blue mist” or “red mist” episodes and feel inclined to strike out, she said.

“At the end of the day everyone is human and people are afraid, and that is where we really need to be clear about professional standards and that line that you do not cross.”

Garda do an extraordinary job every day, she said. “Putting on a uniform does not make you immune to fear and dread.”

Body cameras

The arrival of smartphones and social media have made frontline policing all the more stressful, she said, with the latter sometimes being used to try to identify members of the force and publish their home addresses.

“You are there and all of a sudden there is this mayhem all around you and you have these people putting cameras in your face,” O’Sullivan said.

Body cameras would help relieve the pressures created by people videoing Garda members while at the same time verbally abusing them in an effort to provoke a response.

“I think a lot of people who engage in this type of behaviour would be more reluctant to do it, if they knew that the guard had a body camera and could record that person’s behaviour.”

“In my experience, the guards have nothing to fear from having them. It is the opposite. They can be a protection.”

An Garda Síochána face the same types of violent incidents as other police forces, O’Sullivan said, but are particularly good at managing them.

“The guards are very tolerant of what I would say are abusive situations, and try to de-escalate and de-conflict situations that would escalate very quickly in other jurisdictions.”

Asked if she believes members of An Garda Síochána tend to protect and cover-up for colleagues who have acted improperly, O’Sullivan said a lot has changed in recent years.

“In my experience most people who join the police, join to do the right thing. They don’t want to see wrongdoing, they want wrongdoing to be challenged, and they are willing to call it out. And you have to have the mechanisms in place to allow them to call it out and to speak up.”


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Britain’s most expensive and cheapest places to buy or rent a home revealed

The most expensive and cheapest places to buy or to rent in Britain have been revealed.

Aberdeen tops the list of the cheapest cities for first-time buyers, while the most expensive is perhaps no surprise, London, where average prices tend to be higher than the rest of the country.

It is a similar picture for the most expensive places to rent, with the capital ranked top of that list too.

On the flipside, tenants are also required to head north if they want to live in the cheapest city to rent, Carlisle, in Cumbria.

The cheapest cities for first-time buyers and tenants have been identified by Rightmove

The cheapest cities for first-time buyers and tenants have been identified by Rightmove

The figures were based on monthly mortgage and rent costs.

Home purchase figures calculated by Rightmove assumed that first-time buyers in Scotland and Wales have a 20 per cent deposit, and first-time buyers in England have a 25 per cent deposit.

The size of deposit was based on averages from UK Finance, which revealed that more first-time buyers are choosing longer repayment terms to improve their affordability.

As such, the repayment term used in the Rightmove calculations was 35 years. Rightmove also assumed that the typical first-time buyer property had two bedrooms or less.

Aberdeen tops the list compiled by Rightmove of the cheapest cities for first-time buyers

Aberdeen tops the list compiled by Rightmove of the cheapest cities for first-time buyers

THE CHEAPEST CITIES TO BUY A TYPICAL FIRST-TIME BUYER PROPERTY
Cities Average asking price for a first-time buyer type property (2 bedrooms and fewer) Average monthly mortgage payment (per month)* Average monthly rental payment (per month) Mortgage versus Rent
Aberdeen £102,601 £406 £775 -£369
Bradford £107,929 £400 £714 -£314
Sunderland £111,263 £413 £648 -£235
Carlisle £111,268 £413 £607 -£194
Preston £112,273 £416 £787 -£371
Hull £113,920 £423 £638 -£215
Dundee £116,191 £460 £821 -£361
Stoke-On-Trent £117,113 £434 £701 -£266
Durham £125,957 £467 £796 -£328
Doncaster £128,062 £475 £707 -£232
Source: Rightmove       
THE MOST EXPENSIVE CITIES TO BUY A TYPICAL FIRST-TIME BUYER PROPERTY
Cities Average asking price for a first-time buyer type property (2 bedrooms and fewer) Average monthly mortgage payment (per month) Average monthly rental payment (per month) Mortgage versus Rent
London £501,934 £1,862 £2,264 -£402
St. Albans £391,964 £1,454 £1,509 -£55
Cambridge £361,429 £1,341 £1,533 -£193
Winchester £344,638 £1,278 £1,332 -£53
Oxford £338,085 £1,254 £1,561 -£307
Brighton £335,402 £1,244 £1,468 -£224
Bristol £280,112 £1,039 £1,336 -£297
Chelmsford £262,522 £974 £1,300 -£326
York £244,834 £908 £1,145 -£237
Edinburgh £239,028 £946 £1,310 -£365
Source: Rightmove       

The average asking price in Aberdeen is £102,601, with the average monthly mortgage payment at £406 a month.

The most expensive city is followed by Bradford with an average asking price of £107,929 and Sunderland, which is ranked third with an asking price of £111,263.

For those in the rental market, the most expensive place to rent outside of London is Oxford, where an average two-bedroom or small home costs £1,561 a month.

At the other end of the scale, the cheapest city for a tenant who is looking for a two-bedroom or smaller property is Carlisle where such rents are £607 a month.

Mortgage rates are slightly higher than a year ago, but have stabilised since the peak in July 2023.

Rightmove explained that this has helped those looking to move at the start of this year.

The average mortgage payment for a typical first-time buyer looking at a property with two bedrooms or less is £53 more than a year ago, compared to £81 for tenants.

It means that those who can afford to save a good sized deposit of at least 20 per cent, it is cheaper to pay a monthly mortgage than rent in each of the largest cities in Britain.

Winchester is among the most expensive cities for first-time buyers looking for a property with two bedrooms or fewer

Winchester is among the most expensive cities for first-time buyers looking for a property with two bedrooms or fewer

Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘We remain a nation of aspirational homeowners, despite higher mortgage rates and the difficulty in raising a deposit. 

‘Renting may give more flexibility but also less security and crucially ends up costing more than buying your own place.

‘However, the high cost of home ownership, particularly in London and the south east means that it’s practically impossible to get on the housing ladder without financial assistance from family members. 

‘Longer mortgage terms are inevitable as borrowers try to make the monthly costs more affordable but of course they will end up making many more payments over an extended period of time. 

‘It is worth opting for a longer term to help with the affordability calculations and then trying to overpay to reduce the term and interest, as and when you can afford to do so.’

Carlisle in the country of Cumbria is the cheapest city for those looking to rent

Carlisle in the country of Cumbria is the cheapest city for those looking to rent

THE CHEAPEST CITIES FOR TENANTS
Cities Average monthly rental payment (per month) Average asking price for a first-time buyer type property (2 bedrooms and fewer) Average monthly mortgage payment (per month)* Rent versus mortgage
Carlisle £607 £111,268 £413 £194
Hull £638 £113,920 £423 £215
Sunderland £648 £111,263 £413 £235
Stoke-On-Trent £701 £117,113 £434 £266
Doncaster £707 £128,062 £475 £232
Bradford £714 £107,929 £400 £314
Wrexham £754 £129,649 £513 £241
Lancaster £764 £152,062 £564 £200
Aberdeen £775 £102,601 £406 £369
Preston £787 £112,273 £416 £371
Source: Rightmove       
THE MOST EXPENSIVE CITIES FOR TENANTS
Cities Average monthly rental payment (per month) Average asking price for a first-time buyer type property (2 bedrooms and fewer) Average monthly mortgage payment (per month)* Rent versus mortgage
London £2,264 £501,934 £1,862 £402
Oxford £1,561 £338,085 £1,254 £307
Cambridge £1,533 £361,429 £1,341 £193
St. Albans £1,509 £391,964 £1,454 £55
Brighton £1,468 £335,402 £1,244 £224
Bristol £1,336 £280,112 £1,039 £297
Winchester £1,332 £344,638 £1,278 £53
Edinburgh £1,310 £239,028 £946 £365
Chelmsford £1,300 £262,522 £974 £326
Milton Keynes £1,239 £233,320 £865 £373
Source: Rightmove       

Meanwhile, soaring rents across Britain mean that the cost of renting a two-bedroom or small home has increased by 39 per cent in the last five years.

This compares to a jump of 19 per cent in the cost of buying a similar type of property.

Rightmove claimed that even if a first-time buyer had a smaller deposit of 15 per cent and sought to repay their mortgage over a shorter mortgage term of 25 years, it would still be cheaper to pay a mortgage than rent in 39 out of Britain’s 50 largest cities outside of London.

Rightmove’s Tim Bannister said: ‘These latest figures highlight why so many people remain determined to get onto the ladder, as the soaring costs of renting has meant buying has remained attractive even with higher mortgage rates.

‘Longer mortgage-terms are becoming more common as a way to improve overall affordability and reduce monthly payments, though first-time buyers should be aware of what they are paying in interest compared with their actual mortgage.

‘Without improvements to the supply of good quality, affordable rental homes in Great Britain, owning your own home is likely to continue to be the end-goal for those that can get their deposit together, and borrow what they need to from a mortgage lender.’

Best mortgage rates and how to find them

Mortgage rates have risen substantially after the Bank of England’s raised base rate rapidly.

The Bank is now holding rates and expected to cut – leading to mortgage costs coming down – but deals remain far more expensive than two or five years ago. 

If you are looking to buy your first home, move or remortgage, or are a buy-to-let landlord, it’s important to get good independent mortgage advice from a broker who can help you find the best deal. 

To help our readers find the best mortgage, This is Money has partnered with independent fee-free broker L&C.

Our mortgage calculator powered by L&C can let you filter deals to see which ones suit your home’s value and level of deposit.

You can also compare different mortgage fixed rate lengths, from two-year fixes, to five-year fixes and ten-year fixes, with monthly and total costs shown.

Use the tool at the link below to compare the best deals, factoring in both fees and rates. You can also start an application online in your own time and save it as you go along.

> Compare the best mortgage deals available now

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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How Much Have House Prices Changed In Your Area?

UK Home Prices

UK homeowners saw the value of their homes rise for the third month in a row, according to analysis by online estate agent Purplebricks.

The North East and North West of England were the biggest winners in average value rises in the UK, the latest figures show.

And now a new online calculator can show how much house prices have changed in your area in the last year.

The interactive tool below has been updated to include the latest House Price Index data, released by the Office for National Statistics today.

To use the Purplebricks calculator, simply search for YOUR local area and find out how house prices have changed over the last 12 months:

UK homeowners saw the value of their homes rise for the third month in a row, according to analysis by online estate agent Purplebricks

UK homeowners saw the value of their homes rise for the third month in a row, according to analysis by online estate agent Purplebricks

This three-bedroom semi flat in Stroud, where prices rose 9.8%, is on the market for £360,000

This three-bedroom semi flat in Stroud, where prices rose 9.8%, is on the market for £360,000

Average UK house prices increased by 0.4% or £1,000 from January to February, making the average property now valued at £281,000, according to today’s House Price Index (HPI).

Over the 12-month period to February, average prices fell just 0.2%, which is an improvement from the 1.3% decline in the 12 months to January this year.

In England, house prices were also on the increase, with a 0.6% monthly rise, making average property now valued at £298,000 – despite a 1.1% fall over the last year.

The North East of England saw the biggest monthly increase, with property prices soaring 3.2%, and 2.9% over the year. Average homes there are now worth £160,000.

And, homeowners in the North West saw the greatest annual price rise, up by 1%, meaning the average property there is now worth £214,000.

London is once again the hardest-hit UK region, with 4.8% annual decline, but a fall of just 0.7% from January to February – pricing the average home in the capital at £503,000 today.

Homeowners in The City of London were the surprise property-price winners, after a six-figure decline last month.

Homes in the capital’s famous banking district rose more than £73,000 or 9.1% – more than anywhere else in the UK – meaning the average property is now worth around £808,000.

But that was far from the picture across the rest of London, which saw six-figure price plunges in four areas and declines in a total of 29 areas.

The City of Westminster was hardest hit by the price drop, with properties shedding an eye-watering £190,000 over the last year.

This three-bed semi in South Hams, where prices rose 7.9%, is on the market for £490,000

This three-bed semi in South Hams, where prices rose 7.9%, is on the market for £490,000

Average UK house prices increased by 0.4% or £1,000 from January to February, making the average property now valued at £281,000

Average UK house prices increased by 0.4% or £1,000 from January to February, making the average property now valued at £281,000

Elsewhere in the capital, the exclusive borough of Kensington and Chelsea saw prices sink by more than £160,000 in a year, with Camden homes losing nearly £130,000 and Hammersmith and Fulham homes losing just over £100,000.

Outside London, the commuter town of St Albans saw nearly a £25,000 year-on-year price rise, making the average home now worth £589,270.

And, the picturesque North East district of Ribble Valley saw house prices increase by just over £20,000 in the last year, making the average property now worth £284,355.

House prices in Wales increased by 0.4% over the last month, despite an annual 1.2% fall – making the average property worth £211,000.

And, property prices continue to climb in Scotland, with the average home now priced at £188,000 after a 5.6% increase over the last year.

And, prices in Northern Ireland increased by 1.4% to £178,000 in the year to Quarter 4 of 2023.

Purplebricks CEO Sam Mitchell said: ‘Britain has now seen its third consecutive month-on-month increase in property prices – fantastic news for homeowners.

‘This three-month increase is evidence of a reinvigorated property market that will continue to go from strength to strength.’

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