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‘They survived physically. Mentally they’re traumatised’

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Eighteen-year-old Mohanad Abuowda should be focused on his Leaving Certificate. Instead he has been riddled with worry for his family living back home in Gaza, Palestine.

The ceasefire, which has been in place since Friday morning, is a “great relief” to Mohanad, and he hopes it will continue.

“This ceasefire has brought one less worry for me… I just hope to see Gaza open and accessible for tourism and trade soon so we can have a proper functioning society,” he says

Recently the windows in his family’s home were smashed. His parents and three sisters, the youngest of which is nine, have been sleeping all together in the kitchen for safety.

“If something were to happen they feel at least they were together,” he says.

It is difficult to communicate with them, as the power often cuts out due to damaged electricity lines and energy shortages.

“I worry about them and I wanted to help them, but there was no way to do that,” he says.

Since fighting began on May 10th, health officials in Gaza say at least 232 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children, and more than 1,700 wounded in air and artillery bombardments. According to the Israeli military, at least 160 of the fatalities were militant fighters. In Israel, 12 civilians have been killed, as well as a soldier, and more than 600 people injured.

Mohanad, a talented footballer, came to Ireland alone and with little English at the age of 15. He was granted refugee status, but as a minor he was not able to travel back to visit home. Anyway, it is not safe to try to enter Palestine right now, he says: “It is hard that I cannot go there, but I cannot bring them here either.”

The sixth-year student has seen it before himself. He recalls hearing rockets and bombs outside his home during previous wars. “I remember how hard it was… They are bombing all around you. The power of that rocket is unreal. You feel as though you are in a movie.”

Hide from rockets

Tareq Altorak, also 18, came to Ireland for similar reasons. He graduated from the Le Cheile school in Tyrrelstown, Dublin on Thursday, but he says the day felt “pointless” without his family safely by his side.

The Leaving cert student has many siblings back home, including a two-year-old sister. They should be getting educational opportunities like he is, but instead they have learned how to hide from rockets, he says.

“My sister had to stop going to school. She is very smart. Kids need to go to school… All they have is wars, attacking and people getting killed,” he says.

His family home is situated in the most dangerous area of Gaza, he says, as it is close to where members of Hamas are based. Many nearby have lost their homes.

“A few days ago they had to leave because they got a call from the Israelis to say they would bomb our house. It did not happen in the end, thank God,” he adds.

Tareq feels “a bit more comfortable” after the announcement of the ceasefire: “My family is going to be fine for now, but the damage Israel has done is still there… At least there is no bombing.” Although they have respite from the airstrikes, it will be difficult to resume their lives, he says: “They still need money, food on the table and clothes, but all of the shops are closed.”

Tareq came to Ireland in search of a “better life”: “I wanted a peaceful life and I didn’t want to get killed.” Despite the ceasefire, he knows now “for sure” that there is little hope of improving the lives of his family if they remain in Palestine.

“What I wish for is to get my family here as soon as possible. I remember being there; I know it is not safe.”

Worry

Dublin resident Fatin Al Tamimi could barely sleep, eat or think with the worry she felt for her family living in Gaza during the airstrikes.

“I am very relieved that they have survived physically. Mentally they are traumatised… You can see the fear,” she says.

Among those killed in recent days were 50 people living in the buildings next to the home of Al Tamimi’s aunt, who had to flee her home in recent days.

Fatin’s 12-year-old niece has been telling her how she was “terrified” when the ground shook. “They sleep together in the middle of the floor… You cannot imagine the terror,” she says. The situation has been “more than worrying; it is devastating”.

Fatin has lived in Ireland for more than 20 years. She was born in Qatar to Palestinian parents who were not allowed to return to their homeland, she says. Chair of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, her name is on a blacklist banning her from re-entering Palestine due to her activism. She would return to Gaza in a heartbeat if she knew it was safe.

“I used to spend summers in Palestine. The last time I went I was about 13 years old… Now I have no right to go back.”

She clings to hope, as all Palestinians do, that this fresh ceasefire will last, she says. “The messages and the calls from my family give me strength. I feel they are stronger than me.” She prays it will be possible and safe to meet her mother and sister in Jordan this summer so they can grieve for her father, who died two months ago.

“Hopefully my sister can stay safe. We still have that hope that we will meet in July.”

Smell of death

Yaser Alashqar, adjunct assistant professor of international peace studies at Trinity College Dublin, has been hearing from his family how the “smell of death and destruction is everywhere around them”.

Like the rest of the people and families in Gaza they are “terrified and traumatised” from the 11 days of fighting, he says.

“Gaza is under Israeli blockade and they are trapped and cannot escape. There is no safe space in Gaza.”

He recalls a “depressing” situation when he visited his homeland two years ago. He says Israel’s militarised policies and blockade of Gaza continue under the pretext of undermining the power of Hamas, but this a “collective punishment” on the entire people.

“As I saw it on the ground, the majority of Gaza’s young population have a desire to leave because of the worsening living conditions,” he adds. Covid-19 and high case numbers has made Gaza’s plight “more critical”, he says.

While European states had called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid, Yaser says they are “still unwilling to push for longer-term solutions or challenge Israel’s policy of occupation and apartheid in the Palestinian territories”.

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Buy-to-let landlords didn’t take advantage of the stamp duty holiday to buy more

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Britain’s landlords did not embrace the stamp duty holiday with the same fervour as owner occupiers, new research suggests. 

Buy-to-let investors completed tens of thousands fewer transactions than they did during a similar 15-month period in 2016, despite rents heading higher in much of Britain during the pandemic. 

The share of properties bought by landlords in the run-up to the tax holiday, which started in July 2020, was 11 per cent – and only rose to 12 per cent during it, according to estate agent Hamptons International.

The stamp duty holiday failed to leabeing in to take advantage of rising rents

The stamp duty holiday failed to lead to a buy-to-let boom, despite landlords being eligible for the tax saving of up to £15,000 and having the chance to take advantage of rising rents

This was despite rents rising at their fastest pace for more than a decade in the year to July. 

There were a total of 215,000 investor purchases across Britain between July 2020 and September 2021. 

This was below the 242,400 purchases which were made during the 15-month run up to the introduction of the 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge for landlords on 1 April 2016.

During the stamp duty holiday, the average landlord who did buy a property saved £3,000, the equivalent of around three months’ rent and a 35 per cent reduction on their £8,500 average tax bill before July 2020.

What was the stamp duty holiday?  

The stamp duty holiday was introduced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in July 2020, in a bid to jump-start the housing market after the first national lockdown. 

It lasted for 15 months in total. From July 2020 to July 2021, both owner-occupiers and investors could save up to £15,000, as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of any property purchase under £500,000.

From July to September 2021, the limit was reduced to £250,000, offering them a maximum saving of £2,500. The rates returned to pre-pandemic levels on 1 October.  

Average bills are set to return to around £8,400 from 1 October 2021, just below what investors were paying on the eve of the stamp duty holiday. 

The figures suggest landlords were not willing to outbid home buyers as house prices continued to rocket. 

This may have been a result of increasing taxes and regulations on landlords over the past few years, which started with the introduction of the 3 per cent surcharge in 2016. 

At the time, many landlords bought up properties beforehand to get in under the wire.  

As well as the standard stamp duty bill, buy-to-let investors and anyone buying a second home must pay a 3 per cent surcharge on top of the standard rates for owner-occupiers.

In the run-up to that policy being introduced, the proportion of home sales made up by landlords in Britain was much higher at 17 per cent, according to Hamptons.

The deeply unpopular surcharge is often cited by landlords as a reason for not expanding their portfolio, or even quitting the market altogether.

Landlords bought up more homes ahead of the introduction of new taxes on buy-to-let in 2016, than they did during the stamp duty holiday over the past 15 months

Landlords bought up more homes ahead of the introduction of new taxes on buy-to-let in 2016, than they did during the stamp duty holiday over the past 15 months

Overall, the stamp duty holiday meant that the average investor paid less in stamp duty than at any time since April 2016, when the 3 per cent stamp duty surcharge was introduced.

Despite this, the average bill during the holiday remained twice the level it was before the surcharge was introduced. 

What about those landlords who did buy?

There is little indication that landlords who did buy properties during the stamp duty holiday took advantage of the saving to buy bigger properties in more expensive areas.

Instead, 83 per cent of investor purchases were under £250,000, meaning their savings from the holiday were significantly smaller than those enjoyed by home movers.

During the holiday the average price paid by a landlord rose by just 1 per cent to £181,000, despite wider house price growth of 10 per cent over the same period. 

Landlords who did buy homes during the stamp duty holiday paid just 1% more for them, despite house prices as a whole rising by as much as 10% according to some estimates

Landlords who did buy homes during the stamp duty holiday paid just 1% more for them, despite house prices as a whole rising by as much as 10% according to some estimates

According to the September House Price Index from Nationwide, £22,613 has been added to the cost of the average home in just a year, with the average price of a home increasing 10 per cent to £248,742.

Commenting Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at Hamptons, said: ‘The overall impact of the stamp duty holiday on investor activity has been relatively muted.

‘The holiday resulted in a small uplift in the number of new buy-to-let investors, but despite their reduced bills, they were not outbidding owner-occupiers on any significant scale.’

What is happening to rents? 

Average rental growth across Britain hit 8 per cent in September, the third fastest annual rate of growth recorded this year, according to Hamptons.  

Regions in the South of England, but outside of London, led the way.  

The South West saw the highest rent increases in the past year, reaching £1,011

The South West saw the highest rent increases in the past year, reaching £1,011

The average rent on a new home rose 14.8 per cent to £1,011 in the South West, 14.7 per cent to £1,252 in the South East and 10.8 per cent to £1,106 in the East of England.

September marked the sixth consecutive month where annual rental growth hit double figures in the South West. 

The region has benefited from people relocating away from cities during the pandemic, as well as an increased appetite for longer-term holiday lets. 

London rents have also continued to recover. 

Although Inner London was the only region in the UK to see a decline in rents year-on-year, the 4.4 per cent or £100 year-on-year fall was far smaller than the 22.1 per cent decrease recorded in April when the market bottomed out.

In Outer London, rents grew 3.2 per cent annually in September, rising for the thirteenth consecutive month. This kept Greater London rents overall in positive territory, up 1.8 per cent year-on-year.

Beveridge added: ‘While rental growth rates typically peak over the summer months, this year they have continued to rise into the autumn. 

‘This means average monthly rents have passed £1,100 for the first time nationally, led by big increases on larger homes. 

‘The average four-bed home now costs 120 per cent more than a one-bed, up from 95 per cent pre-pandemic. 

‘While we are expecting this growth to moderate in the final few months of the year, it is likely 2021 will mark some of the fastest rates of rental growth in a generation.’

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Johann van Graan non-committal on prospect of Conor Murray return

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Johann van Graan was somewhat less than adamant that Conor Murray will make his seasonal re-appearance in their United Rugby Championship (URC) fifth round match away to the Ospreys next Saturday night, which is just two weeks out from the first of Ireland’s November test series, with the All Blacks to follow a week later.

“He might possibly be involved next week,” said the Munster head coach after their latest act of escapology to beat Connacht 20-18 at Thomond Park on Saturday night.

Might possibly?

“We’ll see how the week goes. We’ve taken our time with his recovery, so if he comes through the week then we’ll make a call at the back end of the week whether we’re going to select him or not.”

Van Graan assured us that Murray is not injured.

“No, he’s good. He had non-23 training on Friday so really looking forward to getting him involved.”

Van Graan wore the smile of a relieved man after Connacht had pushed them to the wire with a clever, fired-up all-round display in a spicy derby, during which the lead changed hands five times.

“I think if you look at the table, it’s three Irish teams at the top. Connacht are always such a big team in the interpros and you’ve got to give credit to them. Last season they beat all three of the Irish teams away.

“That’s why the players and the coaches and the supporters, and everybody involved loves an interpro, because that’s what you get. It’s not a classic but for the purist it’s a battle.

“That’s what the game is about and that’s why Irish rugby is in such a good place because they have got four top teams and some very good players across the four teams. That was a grind from our side, and proud of the way we finished that with that try and the conversion,” he said in reference to Diarmuid Barron’s 78th minute try and Joey Carbery’s nerveless conversion.

His counterpart, Andy Friend, was left with immense pride in his team’s performance mixed with acute frustration at their infuriating inconsistency and key mistakes, not least at restart receptions, but also the key decisions that went against his team.

Most notable of these was the failure by TMO Brian MacNeice and referee Chris Busby to spot that Tadhg Beirne was clearly in front of the ball before hacking on Rory Scannell’s crosskick in the build-up to Chris Cloete’s 39th minute try.

“I’ve got to be careful here,” he said when asked if he felt Connacht don’t receive a fair rub of the green from officials. “I’ve been here three and a bit years, mate, and if it’s a 50-50 I rarely see it going our way.

“I know that, but listen we’ve got to keep pushing our limits and making sure that we’re trying to be as squeaky clean as we can with things. I’m just…. to me, that try and the missed offside there – that’s inexcusable. Whether it’s Connacht or somebody else, I don’t know, it’s just inexcusable.”

To compound his frustrations, nor does the URC have channels to go through.

“We don’t have a referees’ manager, so I’m assuming that URC will be looking at that and hopefully something happens to the TMO that missed it. But it doesn’t help us, mate.”

Putting his own team’s errors into perspective, Friend highlighted their lineout pressure, strike plays, kicking and defence.

“On the whole the majority was really good, there’ll always be elements we need to work on. Otherwise we’d be out of a job.”

With next Saturday’s home game against Ulster at the Aviva in mind, Friend said: “What we will use is that we know we’re a good football side.

“We’ve just pushed a good Munster team who haven’t looked like losing a game this year and have played some really good rugby.

“We’ve turned up at their home field, where we beat them last season, knowing full well there was going to be a kick-back and we pushed them all the way to their limits.

“So, we know we’re a good football side. Our blip last week (against the Dragons) was a blip. We just have to make sure we never drop to that again and we keep our standards high.”

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Irish man (24) who drowned in swimming pool in Marbella is named

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A 24-year-old man who drowned in a swimming pool near Marbella in Spain has been named locally in Co Clare as Irish Defence Forces member Gerard McMahon.

Authorities responded to a distress call at 10.25am on Friday. The alarm was raised by friends who found Mr McMahon lifeless in the pool.

Spanish authorities are treating the death of the holiday maker as a “tragic accident”.

Mr McMahon lived in the Killaloe area of Co Clare. Local priest Fr Jerry O’Brien confirmed he had met the family of the young man and expressed his sympathy on behalf of the community.

Ogonnelloe GAA posted a tribute to Mr McMahon who was well known and liked in the community.

“It is with profound shock and sadness that we learned today of the sudden passing of our young member and friend, Gerard McMahon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his parents, Pat and Carmel, his sister Bríd, and all the McMahon family at this extremely difficult time.”

The club Facebook page posted a picture of Mr McMahon from 2016 when he and his team mates won the Division 3 League.

Scarriff Hurling also paid tribute to Mr McMahon who played for them at juvenile level. “Always with pride, great skill and giving all to the team and club.”

Meanwhile, local Fine Gael councillor Joe Cooney said the family of the young man were in the thoughts and prayers of the community.

Mr McMahon was a Private in the First Infantry Battalion in Renmore Barracks in Galway. St Patrick’s Garrison Church posted a message on Facebook asking for prayers for Mr McMahon and for his “family and comrades”.

A postmortem was expected to take place over the weekend at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Malaga.

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