It has been a strange and extraordinary year for everyone, including the GAA and especially the association in Northern Ireland. This was a year that had been heralded by the uncertainty surrounding the final settlement of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
The Northern Ireland protocol may be a matter of unhappiness for the DUP but, as things stand, the island of Ireland isn’t going to be complicated with a major international border, which is good news for any 32-county organisation.
Notions, however, that the decent 2016 majority vote in the North in favour of continued EU membership might translate into inroads for the idea of a united Ireland have receded as the usual political divisions have re-emerged.
Such is the state of flux, though, that this year’s Northern Ireland census has been flagged for a while as being possibly the first to indicate that the Roman Catholic population has become the largest faith group in the state.
It has been an academic point of view, which scrupulously explains that such a demographic shift isn’t necessarily political, but there is no doubting its significance as a milestone.
Yet at this time of turbulence, the pandemic has created a more concrete border than has been seen for a while, allowing that the jittery but necessary measures to contain another plague, foot-and-mouth disease, didn’t last too long.
Recent weeks have seen some debate in the Ulster GAA, which also administers three counties in the Republic. This has been triggered by the North doing conspicuously better in terms of dealing with Covid both in suppressing numbers and rolling out the vaccine.
With these advances, clubs in the six counties are scheduled to return to restricted activities on April 12th should the Northern Ireland executive confirm their relaxation schedule after Easter.
This has prompted two separate responses: one, as argued by Armagh and Crossmaglen All-Ireland medallist Oisín McConville, that local Gaelic games should return as soon as the public health environment allows; and the other, as countered by Tyrone chair Michael Kerr, that the association should move as a single, 32-county entity.
It’s fair to say that the GAA’s Covid Advisory Group were not snubbing Kerr’s view of things when they rubber-stamped the potential return of clubs north of the Border. They were simply recognising realities.
There is a definite school of thought in Ulster that, if at all possible, the two jurisdictions should move in tandem – but that relies on there being no more than a couple of weeks in the difference. Unfortunately, clubs in the South are a fair degree off that trajectory.
Anyway, clubs will only have internal county competitions to occupy them, and there won’t be any crossing of paths with other provinces until next winter at the earliest.
There is a potential issue concerning the intercounty game, which is regarded – albeit with increasing anxiety – as likely to return in early April, with training permitted to resume.
That call has been left up to the Dublin Government, whose determination is expected towards the end of next week. Should the Covid numbers be sufficiently alarming to postpone that green light, what will there be to stop counties in the North returning to train when their clubs get the go-ahead on April 12th?
Ulster GAA has kept an even keel through all of this. Provincial CEO Brian McAvoy is a model of solid, low-key administration.
Just this week, Ulster Council was able to announce a sizeable slice of extra funding from Sport NI of £5.93 million (€6.9 million), a reflection of both the previously noted GAA acumen for completing compelling grant applications and perhaps the now less-controversial place of the association in the public affairs.
When added to the first tranche, it brought to £7.38 million (€8.5 million) the total received under the Sports Sustainability Fund – or not far off half what Gaelic games received (€18.5 million) from the Irish Government to subvent the running of last year’s All-Ireland championships.
So what is the GAA’s place in Northern Ireland? Gaelic games were for many years one of the few means of everyday cultural expression for nationalists and often targeted for that reason. The resentments that boiled over for more than 25 murderous years have proved difficult to address.
Ulster GAA has a laudable track record of working on outreach projects. At last July’s GAA Museum Summer School, there was a presentation on the role of sport in reconciliation in Northern Ireland from Armagh All-Ireland winner, Ulster GAA’s Diarmuid Marsden.
It was striking how much effort goes into small-scale victories like the cross-community Cúchulainn Cup, but the faultlines are never far away.
At a previous summer school in 2017, another well-known former Armagh footballer, Jarlath Burns – whose work in outreach as principal of St Paul’s in Bessbrook has been widely praised – struck a gloomier note when saying that he didn’t feel the GAA was ever going to turn around some unionist perceptions of, and associated disrespect for, the association.
Neither side, though, is blameless in the perceptions displayed to the other.
Last September there was trouble when public health directives were clearly ignored at the Tyrone football final. It was a canary in the coalmine in one sense, as similar disregard was pretty soon on show all over the country before Croke Park abruptly ended the club championship season.
Ulster Council released a statement in which it properly said, “we are living in a pandemic, and the post-match scenes did not portray the association in a positive light.”
First Minister Arlene Foster quickly condemned it on Twitter and the battle lines were drawn for a social media pile-on in which there was virtually no deviation from tribal loyalties.
It underlined the extraordinary job the Ulster Council has done to maintain the primacy of the games throughout a history that runs longer than the current and problematic centenary of the Northern state.
Census 2022 – what difference does it make?
Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.
But what it is it all about?
At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.
The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.
The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.
Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.
Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.
And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.
Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture
Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.
At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.
During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.
When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”
He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.
During the commercial break, Will Smith is pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, who motion for him to brush it off. Will appears to wipe tears from his eyes as he sits back down with Jada, with Denzel comforting Jada and Will’s rep by his side. pic.twitter.com/uDGVnWrSS2
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) March 28, 2022
The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.
House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022
House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.
Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.
The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.
Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.
This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.
MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.
It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.
“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.
“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.
“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.
“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.
He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.
Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.
Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.
The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.
“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”
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