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Backstage in Rotterdam, Lesley Roy flashes a smile wider than Marty Whelan’s moustache

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Backstage in Rotterdam, Lesley Roy flashes a smile wider than Marty Whelan’s moustache. “What’s great about Eurovision is that you can come and wear something mad or sing something crazy – and people will either get it or they won’t,” says Ireland’s contestant in the 2021 competition. “That’s always how the shows have been.”

Roy, who is from Balbriggan, in north Co Dublin, was chosen to represent Ireland at Eurovision 2020 with her ballad The Story of My Life, but then the event was cancelled by Covid. She’s back with a new song, Maps, and an ambitious stage routine that will see her jog on the spot, surrounded by a menagerie of paper buildings. The performance will be shared with the world on Tuesday, when she participates in this year’s first semi-final, ahead of the final, on Saturday, May 22nd.

Roy hopes to be only the second Irish contestant to reach the final since 2013. Is she feeling a responsibility to help heal the country’s wounded Europride? ‘I’m really not,’ she says

“The only pressure was coming up with a new song. That was the most anxiety I have had about the whole thing,” says the 34-year-old, who hopes to become the first Irish contestant to reach the Eurovision final since Ryan O’Shaughnessy, in 2018, and only the second since Ryan Dolan, in 2013. Is she feeling a responsibility to help heal the country’s wounded Europride?

“I’m really not,” she says. She spoke to Niamh Kavanagh, the 1993 winner, this morning, and Linda Martin, who won a year earlier, “sent me some great messages: ‘We’re all behind you,’ ‘You’re doing the country proud,’ ‘You’re shining a great light on Ireland.’”

Ireland’s former winners “are just so supportive. They’re like a little family , as cheesy as that sounds. I feel they are sending positive vibes. There is no negative pressure at all.”

Roy performs in seventh place on Tuesday night, right before the first break. She thinks the running order is to her advantage. “I love where we’re at. It’s just a brilliant spot. I feel really blessed we’ve got number seven. We’re right in the middle. People are going to go and top off their wine and will be able to digest the journey I’ve hopefully taken them on.”

France – among the “big five” that automatically qualify for the final – are regarded as favourites in 2021. Roy is an outsider, at 100/1.

Coronavirus remains a concern. Ukraine’s representative missed her second rehearsal because of ill health; she will be tested for Covid-19. Nonetheless, as things stand, a crowd of 3,500 will cheer on Roy and the other contestants at the 16,000-capacity Rotterdam Ahoy arena.

Every performer is going to be a little upset their family is not going to meet them. But we’ve all been living in this online bubble – so it doesn’t feel like a drastic change

“It’s great for the audience,” says Roy. “There are so many thousands of people that have wanted to be at this. The fact they’re going to have 3,500 people from the Netherlands is brilliant for them.”

That isn’t to rule out a last-minute Covid scare requiring a change of plan. “We were very mindful that this show is maybe just going to be for people at home. So we have built the majority of the song for people in their living rooms.”

She has been accompanied from her home in New York by her wife, Lauren. The rest of her family will tune in from Balbriggan. It breaks Roy’s heart slightly to be apart from her loved ones. “Every performer is going to be a little upset their family is not going to meet them. But we’ve all been living in this online bubble – so it doesn’t feel like a drastic change.”

The first Eurovision Song Contest semi-final is on RTÉ2 on Tuesday night at 8pm

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six

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According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 



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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Ryanair reports €273m loss as passenger traffic rebounds

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Ryanair has reported a €273 million loss for its first quarter even as traffic rebounded during the period.

The carrier said it carried 8.1 million passengers in the three month period, which cover April to June. This compares to just 500,000 in the same period a year earlier.

Revenues increased 196 per cent from €125 million in the first quarter of 2020 to €371 million for the same quarter this year. Operation costs also rose however, jumping from €313 million to €675 million.

Net debt reduced by 27 per cent on the back of strong operating of €590 million.

“Covid-19 continued to wreak havoc on our business during the first quarter with most Easter flights cancelled and a slower than expected easing of EU travel restrictions into May and June,” said group chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“Based on current bookings, we expect traffic to rise from over five million in June to almost nine million in July, and over 10 million in August, as long as there are no further Covid setbacks in Europe,” he added.

Ryanair said the rollout of EU digital Covid certificates and the scrapping of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals to Britain from mid-July has led to a surge in bookings in recent week.

First quarter scheduled revenues increased 91 per cent to €192 million on the back of the rise in passenger traffic although this was offset by the cancellation of Easter traffic and a delay in the relaxation of travel restrictions.

Ancillary revenue generated approximately €22 per passenger the company said.

Mr O’Leary foresaw growth opportunities for the airline due to the collapse of many European airlines during the Covid crisis, and widespread capacity cuts at other carriers.

“We are encouraged by the high rate of vaccinations across Europe. If, as is presently predicted, most of Europe’s adult population is fully vaccinated by September., then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel for the second half of the fiscal year and well into 2022 – as is presently the case in domestic US air travel,” he said.

However, the airline warned the future remains challenging due to continued Covid restrictions and a lack of bookings and that this meant it was impossible to provided “meaningful” guidance at the time.

“We believe that full0year 2022 traffic has improved to a range of 90 million to 100 million (previously guided at the lower end of an 80 million to 120 million passenger range) and (cautiously) expect that the likely outcome for the year is somewhere between a small loss and breakeven. This is dependent on the continued rollout of vaccines this summer, and no adverse Covid variant developments,” said Mr O’Leary.

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