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‘Southern Protestants don’t dare speak up. It’s a false life’

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In Omagh, Co Tyrone, a group of friends and former member of the security forces are keen to have their say.

“How many times do security force members get a chance to speak about how they feel about ordinary matters in relation to a united Ireland, so-called united Ireland? We don’t get that opportunity,” emphasises George, a former policeman.

He is among those who have agreed to meet The Irish Times to share their views on Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI polling published last week on attitudes in the Republic towards a united Ireland.

The poll showed a clear desire for a united Ireland – 62 per cent were in favour of uniting the island, but not yet – with only 15 per cent backing a referendum now, compared with 42 per cent who preferred a vote in the next 10 years – and not at any price. There was also strong opposition to a new flag or national anthem, and less than 50 per cent support for having unionist politicians as part of the government in Dublin.

There has to be a realisation that the vast majority of soldiers and police just went about and did their job to the best of their ability

All of those who have agreed to give their views for this piece are unionists, and Protestant; all are former members of the British Army or – and in at least one case both – the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) or Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

For security reasons, only one is willing to be identified; the others go by first names only, or use family names, and will not be photographed.

“There are still people out there who want to murder and maim,” says George, adding that if they were to be identified they would be attacked on social media. “There are still people getting threats and having to move home,” says Paul, who was both a soldier and a policeman.

“Security is still at the forefront, I don’t think it’s ever left, so there would be a reluctance for former security force members, even members of the public, to give their views,” says Richard Scott.

“As a former security force member, I still feel that we are being victimised and villainised, so with that perception it’s hard to speak openly.

“Every time you lift a newspaper, it’s about what a member of the police or the armed forces has done. It’s a bit like when people say such and such a force is institutionally racist – we’re now institutionally uniformed terrorists, which is complete and utter nonsense, because what we did was our job.”

Omagh bombing

As a policeman, Scott tended to the dead and injured in the Real IRA bombing of Omagh in 1998, which killed 31 people, including unborn twins.

He was among the first on the scene, was among those who searched for survivors and helped recover the bodies of the victims. He worked on the police investigation and prepared the files for inquest, and was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

All agree that if there has been “wrongdoing in the past, that should be investigated, but it seems to be one-sided”. Scott says: “There has to be a realisation that the vast majority of soldiers and police just went about and did their job to the best of their ability.”

They point to the controversy over a commemoration for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police – which was due to be held in Dublin Castle last year but was cancelled due to public opposition to the event – as evidence of how attitudes in the Republic have not changed, and why they would not be accepted in a united Ireland.

“So 100 years later, the only people who are still being vilified were the police officers, and everybody has been exonerated except for those poor policemen, many of whom were Catholics who were shot dead in their homes, shot dead on trains and everything else in a cowardly and horrible way,” says Scott.


The population in the South don’t want us, and yet they expect us to go into a united Ireland?

Similarly, the decision of President Michael D Higgins not to attend a cross-community church service marking the centenary of partition and the formation of Northern Ireland was “another slap in the face for us”, says Paul.

“What was political about a church? If we take us forward 25 years and we’re all sitting in this united Ireland, and you’re asked what did you do in the past, ‘Oh we were all in the police’, would we say it? I don’t think we would. I don’t think we could, because you could end up being persecuted for it.

“It would be covert, it wouldn’t be going and writing things on the side of your house, it would be covertly within the community. ‘Why is his sons not playing GAA? Oh, they must be Protestant. Why are they not speaking the Irish language?’

“Then you’ll just become what they are in the South, southern Protestants who just go to the church, they don’t dare speak up. It’s a false life, to me that’s just false … I don’t want to become a neutral person just turning a blind eye to everything.”

Kenny, a former soldier, says: “If we were part of a united Ireland we’d be a very small minority and we wouldn’t have a voice. The fear is our culture would just be eradicated.”

Aspiration versus reality

The group feels that the poll results that found a high proportion (77 per cent) would not accept a new flag or a new national anthem (72 per cent) is evidence of an unwillingness in the Republic for genuine compromise or accommodation.

The similar reluctance of those polled to accept higher taxes or less money to spend on public services (79 per cent opposed these in both cases), the feel demonstrates the gap between aspiration and reality when considering the prospect of a united Ireland.

“If there was a united Ireland tomorrow morning, they’re going to have to pay every time they visit a doctor, so there’s a romanticism about having a united Ireland but there needs to be an awful lot of thought put into it before it goes in, and I just don’t think the people down south really want us,” says Scott.

Why are we talking about a united Ireland? Why aren’t we talking about a new Northern Ireland, or making Northern Ireland work for people?

Kenny adds: “How can they ever invite anybody to join them when they’ve said no, don’t want a new national anthem, don’t want a new flag? They’re not doing anything to attract people.”

In the poll, people were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with having unionist politicians as part of government in Dublin. Responses were split: 44 per cent said they would accept it, 42 per cent said they would not, and 14 per cent didn’t know or had no opinion.

In Omagh the reaction is confusion. “Why would they not accept people who were voted in?” asks Paul.

Kenny says, “It shows a pure bitterness, as far as I’m concerned.”

Paul asks for more details on the scenario, whether these were unionists who had been voted into government and pointing out that if so, they would have to be accepted. “If you get voted in, it’s like Sinn Féin getting in. They use that word mandate … they would have a mandate.

“It shows the population don’t want us, and yet they expect us to go that way [into a united Ireland]?

They also have concerns about the prospect of Sinn Féin in government in the South. On a united Ireland, “Sinn Féin haven’t done anything to sell it”, says Scott. They are angry about what they regard as the party’s glorification of terrorism. George: “They’re still justifying what they did.” Kenny: “But young people now don’t care the same.”

“They have to stop going on about the past,” says Paul. “Everybody has to accept everybody’s [past] and then I’ll accept it, not one minute saying they want investigations and then they’re standing at memorials celebrating terrorism.”

Taking part

They discuss the ongoing conversation around a united Ireland and the Irish Government’s Shared Island unit, and whether or not unionists should be part of it. George says he logged on to one of the Shared Island seminars “to see what was going on” and then turned it off.

“Some unionists are getting involved in these conversations because they’re saying if we don’t get involved and then there is a united Ireland, it’s too late to put our case forward about equality and parades and Remembrance Days – that if we’re not involved we can’t complain when the deal is done.”

His own feeling is that “they’d be better spending their time trying to sell Northern Ireland to everyone in this country, Protestant and Catholic”.

He wonders “why are we talking about a united Ireland? Why aren’t we talking about a new Northern Ireland, or making Northern Ireland work for people?”

“I think [the Ulster Unionist Party leader] Doug Beattie’s trying to … but it’s not really been pushed hard enough.

“Our unionist politicians have to sell that far better … I personally believe that if we went into a united Ireland, the unionist population by and large would be really discriminated against.”

Bills says: “We should work for a better Northern Ireland and build Northern Ireland and work on it instead of worrying about a united Ireland.”

Though all are opposed to a united Ireland, all feel it will happen eventually, though not in their lifetimes.

Scott says: “Republicanism has to realise, it’s not just taking one group of people and plonking them down South, it’s 750,000 people, a million people, you just can’t push a million people to do what they want them to do, especially with their past.”

George adds: “If eventually there’s a discussion around it and the Protestant people, unionist people, are treated with respect, get total equality, well then it can work, but if not … ”

One section of the community will always be vilified,” says Scott. “At this time it’s our section of the community are being vilified all the time, and we’ve seen that, in 100 years, attitudes haven’t changed.”

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Lidl to open new store in Billingshurst (GB)

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Dunmoore has signed a forward-funding agreement with CBRE Investment Management for the development of a Lidl supermarket in Billingshurst Business Park, Sussex. CBRE Investment Management is paying €10m (£8.4m) for the 20,451ft² store. Lidl has agreed a 25-year lease at a rent of €430,558 (£360,000) a year with the option to break at years 15 and 20. Development of the store will now commence with a view to opening in June 2022, initiating the second phase of development at the business park that will provide 250,000ft² of industrial and business space accommodation. The superstore will also sit alongside a recently completed petrol filling station and two drive-thru offerings, all providing excellent service for the business park.

 

Jeff Hobby, CEO and owner of Dunmoore, said: “This forward-funding agreement with CBRE Investment Management reflects the strength of the market for long-term, index-linked, blue-chip income. The progress we have made with the development in such challenging times has been excellent and this deal is a testament to our understanding of the ever-changing market and requirements. With continued high levels of demand, we look forward to providing further modern flexible business space for the local area”.

 

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Rents rise at fastest rate on record, says Rightmove

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Rents are rising at the fastest rate on record and now outpace house price increases in most areas of the country, new data has revealed.

It is the latest evidence of challenges people face trying to find somewhere to live. 

High demand among tenants and low supply of good rental homes means there is fierce competition in this part of the property market.

The South West has seen some of the highest rental growth and this four-bed detached house in Frome, Somerset, is for rent for £1,700 a month via Cooper and Tanner letting agents

The South West has seen some of the highest rental growth and this four-bed detached house in Frome, Somerset, is for rent for £1,700 a month via Cooper and Tanner letting agents

Rightmove revealed that rents rose 9.9 per cent to £1,068 a month on average outside of London

Rightmove revealed that rents rose 9.9 per cent to £1,068 a month on average outside of London

Rightmove said that rents had outpaced house price increases in all but three regions in Britain.

It looked at asking rents on its website across Britain and found that they rose 9.9 per cent to reach £1,068 a month on average outside of London.

It is the highest annual jump on record and highlights the recovery in rental growth following a slowdown in the months immediately after the pandemic started.

High demand among tenants and a low supply of rental properties has led to rents outpacing house price increases, Rightmove said in its quarterly report.

The only regions where rental growth has not outstripped the rise in house prices are the East Midlands, the South West and the South East.

However, the South West is still included in the areas with the biggest rises in rental values, up 11 per cent. There is also Wales, up 12.7 per cent, and the North West, up 12.5 per cent.

The data compared the last three months of last year with the same period a year earlier.

Inner London rents grew at a record 16.2 per cent and this one-bed flat at the Battersea Power Station development is for rent for £2,000 a month via Daniel Ford letting agents

Inner London rents grew at a record 16.2 per cent and this one-bed flat at the Battersea Power Station development is for rent for £2,000 a month via Daniel Ford letting agents

GROWTH IN AVERAGE RENTS IN DIFFERENT REGIONS ACROSS BRITAIN
Average asking rent Q4 2021 Average asking rent Q3 2021 QoQ Average asking rent Q4 2020 YoY
East Midlands £935 £925 1.1% £857 9.0%
East of England £1,313 £1,289 1.9% £1,196 9.7%
London £2,142 £2,019 6.1% £1,932 10.9%
North East £718 £699 2.6% £662 8.4%
North West £924 £899 2.7% £821 12.5%
Scotland £826 £805 2.6% £772 7.0%
South East £1,514 £1,489 1.7% £1,379 9.8%
South West £1,180 £1,154 2.3% £1,063 11.0%
Wales £874 £846 3.3% £775 12.7%
West Midlands £941 £918 2.4% £871 8.1%
Yorkshire and The Humber £830 £812 2.2% £759 9.3%
Source: Rightmove         

London saw record annual growth of 10.9 per cent, with asking rents in the capital standing 3 per cent higher than before the start of the pandemic. It is the first time they have risen beyond pre-pandemic levels.

At the end of 2020, London recorded a near-record 6.4 per cent drop in average asking rents as demand shifted away from the capital during another lockdown.

Tenants looked for more space outside of cities, particularly away from flats, while landlords offered tenants willing to stay cut-price rents.

By the end of 2021, London rents were higher than before the pandemic started, as its popularity returned and landlords were able to negotiate higher rents for the new year.

Inner London rents also grew at a record 16.2 per cent, recovering from its drop of 14 per cent at the beginning of 2021, to also rise just ahead of pre-pandemic levels for the first time.

Pontypool in Monmouthshire, Wales, saw the largest increase in asking rents of any local area, up 20 per cent from £562 a month to £674 a month.

It is followed by Ascot, Berkshire, which is up 18.8 per cent and Littlehampton, West Sussex, up 17.5 per cent.

High rental growth was also seen in the East Midlands and this four-bed house in Leicester is for rent for £1,350 a month via Corley letting agents

High rental growth was also seen in the East Midlands and this four-bed house in Leicester is for rent for £1,350 a month via Corley letting agents

RISE IN AVERAGE HOUSE PRICES IN DIFFERENT REGIONS OF BRITAIN
Region Average asking price % YOY
East Midlands £266,725 10.4%
East of England £396,135 8.4%
London £629,286 4.2%
North East £165,277 6.0%
North West £228,866 8.8%
Scotland £162,415 2.8%
South East £450,918 10.2%
South West £359,201 11.6%
Wales £230,813 9.9%
West Midlands £262,825 7.6%
Yorkshire and The Humber £214,988 6.1%
Source: Rightmove     

The imbalance between high tenant demand and low rental stock has also led to competition between tenants for rental homes nearly doubling, up 94 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Total rental demand is up 32 per cent compared to this time last year, while the number of available rental properties is 51 per cent lower. 

It led to available rental properties being snapped up by tenants, in just 17 days on average.

However, Rightmove went on to say that the number of available rental properties is 7 per cent higher than the same period in December, a sign of availability improving at the start of the year.

Flats have seen the highest increase in competition compared to last year, up 132 per cent, followed by terraced houses, up 40 per cent, and semi-detached homes, up 30 per cent.

Rightmove also revealed that the average rental yield across Britain is 5.5 per cent, which is the highest level since 2016 when it was 5.6 per cent.

The North East and Wales have hit record yields, while yields in London, South West and Yorkshire are at their highest since 2015.

Yields in the East of England and South East are at their highest since 2016.

Rightmove also revealed that the average rental yield across Britain is 5.5 per cent

Rightmove also revealed that the average rental yield across Britain is 5.5 per cent

TOP AVERAGE RENTAL YIELDS IN BRITAIN
Area Region Average yield 2020 Average yield 2021 Difference in yields 2021 vs 2020
Preston North West 6.1% 9.1% 3.1%
Exeter South West 6.0% 8.8% 2.7%
Swansea Wales 9.0% 11.2% 2.2%
Nottingham East Midlands 8.2% 10.3% 2.1%
Rushcliffe East Midlands 5.6% 7.7% 2.1%
Renfrewshire Scotland 8.1% 9.9% 1.8%
Gwynedd Wales 9.3% 11.0% 1.7%
Rhondda Cynon Taf Wales 7.6% 9.1% 1.5%
Warwick West Midlands 5.9% 7.3% 1.5%
East Ayrshire Scotland 8.3% 9.7% 1.4%
Source: Rightmove       

Tim Bannister, from Rightmove, said: ‘The year 2020 was defined by the race for space outside of cities, as tenant priorities changed and many moved further out looking for a larger property with green space, or temporarily moved back in with family. 

‘London was perhaps the biggest example of this, where landlords significantly decreased asking rents by the end of the year to encourage tenants to stay in the capital. 

‘A year on, asking rents have finally risen beyond pre-pandemic levels, a sign that the capital has not lost its pull and popularity with renters as landlords look to renegotiate previous cut-price terms.’

He continued: ‘Tenant demand continues to be really high entering the new year, meaning the imbalance between supply and demand is set to continue until more choice comes onto the market for tenants, which has led to our prediction of a further 5 per cent increase in average asking rents in 2022. 

‘Landlords understand the importance of having a good, long-term tenant, and there is a limit to what renters can afford to pay, which will prevent rents rising at the same rate we’ve seen over the past year.’

Marc von Grundherr, of letting agents Benham and Reeves, said: ‘The London rental market is drastically different to that seen in 2020 when landlords were forced to heavily reduce asking rents to secure a tenant and avoid lengthy void periods due to an exodus of market activity from the capital.

‘In fact, the surplus of available rental stock that accumulated due to the pandemic has now plummeted and this has been driven by a staggered return to the workplace and, in particular, a huge influx of demand from overseas students.

‘We’ve also seen a huge increase in the number of tenancy renewals which have even exceeded 2019 levels and so while some areas are yet to see rental values return to the pre-pandemic norm, it’s only a matter of time as the market looks set to continue to this strong return to form throughout 2022.’

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Taoiseach to attend Bloody Sunday memorial service in Derry

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The Taoiseach is to lay a wreath at the memorial to those killed on Bloody Sunday during a service in Derry to mark the 50th anniversary of the atrocity. Micheál Martin is also expected to meet privately with the families of those killed, The Irish Times understands.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, is also due to attend the ceremony on Sunday morning, as will other church leaders and politicians including the Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, vice president and the North’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

President Michael D Higgins will deliver a virtual address at an event in Guildhall Square on Sunday afternoon.

Thirteen people died when members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on an anti-internment march in the city on January 30th, 1972. A fourteenth died later.

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was among the victims, said the Taoiseach would be welcomed by the Bloody Sunday families and it “shows the depth of feeling that the Irish Government has for the families who have witnessed and endured the suffering of Bloody Sunday for five decades.

“It’s a nice tribute from the Irish Government and the people of Ireland and certainly will be welcomed by the families and the people of Derry,” he said.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Eastwood, the MP for Foyle, condemned the flying of Parachute Regiment flags which have appeared on the outskirts of Derry ahead of the anniversary and asked the Northern Secretary, Brandon Lewis, if he felt the regiment should “apologise for and condemn the actions of their soldiers on Bloody Sunday?”

In a post on social media, the Parachute regiment criticised the flying of the flags, describing it as “totally unacceptable and disrespectful behaviour.”

It has been condemned by both nationalist and unionist politicians and by relatives of the victims. Mr Kelly said they were “offensive to families and offensive to the people of Derry” and he called on community leaders in those areas and on unionist politicians to have them removed.

The DUP Assembly member for Foyle, the junior minister Gary Middleton, said the flags were “unnecessary and designed to be offensive” and the flags should be removed.

Responding to Mr Eastwood in the Commons, Mr Lewis said “we, as the Government, have to accept responsibility for what has happened in the past. When things are wrong we need to be clear about that, as we have been. It’s right that we have apologised for that.

“I’ve added my own personal apology to the government’s,” he said.

In a statement to the Commons earlier Mr Lewis acknowledged the upcoming 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the apology from the then prime minister, David Cameron, and said his “thoughts this weekend will be with all those affected”.

Referring to UK government’s new proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles, he said it was engaging intensively and widely and “reflecting carefully on what we have heard.”

In a statement to The Irish Times on Wednesday, a spokesman for the UK ministry of defence said it did “not condone in any way” the “misuse” of flags, which should be “used only in an official capacity.”

He said that following the publication of the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday in 2010 “the Chief of General Staff (Gen Sir David Richards) fully supported the prime minister’s apology on behalf of the government of the United Kingdom, the army and those involved and this remains the army’s position.”

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