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In a vaccinated New York, we look forward to the day we can travel to Ireland

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Mark O’Toole is a UCD graduate from Bray, Co Wicklow, where his family used to own the Harbour Bar. He has lived and worked in New York City for almost 25 years. He is currently making a documentary about life in the city under Covid-19 and his experiences during there during the pandemic. He is a writer and producer based in New York

The sunlight is intense today, with discernable beams filling any gaps afforded by the towering trees of Central Park. Nature is in full bloom; daffodils bright yellow against the green grass, the cherry blossom trees a resplendent pink, adding a splash of colour against the blue sky. Ducks waddle to and fro before eventually taking to the pond. Voices are audible. Children are playing and laughing. Joggers trundle past. A crystal blue sky serves as the canopy for the scene. Life in NYC is back.

Mark O’Toole and his wife Anosha celebrate their son Aidan’s sixth birthday with their daughter Alanna
Mark O’Toole and his wife Anosha celebrate their son Aidan’s sixth birthday with their daughter Alanna

All of this is in stark contrast to a year ago. I documented that grim scene for Irish Times Abroad. New York’s huddled masses yearning to breathe safe were either locked away indoors or had simply packed up and left the Big Apple for less affected areas. And the statistics were on their side. NYC faced mounting death tolls. On some days close to 1,000 deaths were added to the tally; one of them a family member.

Early on little was known about how the virus was transmitted. So, out of an abundance of caution or irrational fear, deliveries were wiped down with disinfectant, with whatever Lysol disinfectant wipes that could be found. We worried about food shortages, toilet paper became the coin of the realm, homeschooling became the new normal. And we wondered if our government was lying to us. A crisis within a crisis.

We still wear masks and practise social distancing. New Yorkers are not yet ready to refill Yankee Stadium. So there’s no euphoria, but there is cautious optimism

Then, on the way to the apocalypse, a funny thing happened. Around the end of June last year, some green shoots were spotted. Shops, hairdressers and restaurants started to open outdoors. My birthday this February was celebrated outside during a snow storm. Heat lamps worked in conjunction with alcohol to either warm my freezing toes or simply forget about them.

NYC has recently allowed 75 per cent in-person dining. Cinemas are open. Museums are open. There are no travel restrictions. I’m able to get my daily 10-mile run in without obstruction. A full re-opening is expected July 1st – fittingly, just in time for Independence day.

But these freedoms were hard to come by. Some 50,000 people died from Covid in New York state. So there is no going back to the old ways. We still wear masks and practise social distancing. New Yorkers are not yet ready to refill Citi Field or Yankee Stadium. So there’s no euphoria, but there is cautious optimism. Ireland may be a low ebb right now. Over a year into this pandemic, we are all fatigued. But help is on the way. Vaccines are being rolled out.

Mark O’Toole celebrating his birthday outside in February 2021 during a snowstorm
Mark O’Toole celebrating his birthday outside in February 2021 during a snowstorm

What a difference a year makes. The new Biden administration has started the process of restoring faith in good government and the American “can do” spirit. The entire response has been a testament to American ingenuity, enabling development and delivery of all new vaccines in under a year. Everyone in New York who is at least 12 years old and up is eligible for a shot. I’ve just had my second shot of the Moderna vaccine.

But the best laid plans of mice and men almost went awry. The day I was scheduled to get my first shot, my family attended a close friend’s St Patrick’s Day back garden brunch. It was two couples and their kids. It was a beautiful warm day and we spent it mostly outdoors, except for bathroom trips and food runs. Later that day, as we were getting our coveted shots, we were notified that our friend’s maskless nanny had tested positive for Covid. We were all overcome with a paranoid fear for ourselves, the kids, our friends and that other couple. How could this happen? We started to think back on the day – what did we touch? How many times were we inside? How close were we to that nanny? Our friend? Each other? The irony of being exposed to Covid right at the finish line was not lost on me. And entirely my fault. The lure of Irish sausages could have been my undoing. For the next 10 days were we in isolation. I was pissed at my stupidity.

New York City does not feel like the mausoleum it was last year. Sure, tourist counts are still way down, but it does feel like village life is returning within the confines of the great city

A PCR test cleared us all of Covid. With swabs stuffed up their noses, my children thought it was a nose tickle party because it came with lollipops after. My friend, who hosted the brunch, was not so lucky. He tested positive. But as the luck of the Irish would have it, he did not develop anything more than feeling tired. No serious illness, no hospital visit. He was fortunate.

But it was an alarming reminder that this virus, along with its more infectious variants, is still out there, undiscerning and present until we reach some level of herd immunity. While that light is shining bright at the end of the tunnel, it was a prescient reminder that until I’m fully vaccinated, I’m still at risk for myself and others.

It’s disheartening to see Ireland in the same position New York was 12 months ago. I feel for my mother, essentially isolated from her family. My now three-year-old daughter has no memory of meeting her Nanna. The last time was when she was one and a half years-old. Facetime is not a substitute for human connection.

Even if I wanted to, I can’t go to Ireland now, no exceptions even for fully vaccinated people like myself, because of the new quarantine policies. All designed to make us stay away. Even despite these restrictions, with infection rates still spreading, never have the actions of so few impacted so many. Now with vaccine availability in NYC, we are looking forward to the day we can all reunite and come to Ireland.

Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, New York City does not feel like the mausoleum it was last year. Sure, tourist counts are still way down, but it does feel like village life is returning within the confines of the great city. The hard-core locals remain. Sightseeing tours have made a cautious return, this time on a more private and intimate basis. Spring is in the air. There’s a bounce in my step.

If I keep my head down for a few more weeks, maybe I’ll get that summer holiday after all and my kids will get a chance to meet their grandmother again. And maybe you will too. Keep hope alive.

Mark O’Toole’s blog is now part of the New York Historical Society museum’s collection. His digital diary is the first the society has run.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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British ex-pat, 67, is forced to DESTROY his Spanish home two months after his wife died from cancer

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A British ex-pat has been forced to knock down his £130,000 Spanish home two months after his wife died from cancer.

But the situation for 67-year-old Gurney Davey, from Suffolk, could get worse because he is facing six months in prison after a mayor illegally gave him planning permission for the house.

‘I was distraught at first, my blood pressure was sky high and then I lost my wife,’ Mr Davey said this week as he was demolishing his home near Tolox, Malaga.

Gurney Davey, 67, has been forced to knock down his £130,000 Spanish home two months after his wife died from cancer

Gurney Davey, 67, has been forced to knock down his £130,000 Spanish home two months after his wife died from cancer

Despite Friday’s demolition also costing him €1,600, he added that it had actually come as ‘some sort of relief’ having fought the legal battle since 2004, over the house he built in 2003. 

It was then that legal firm, Manzanares, informed him he would be getting a licence for an ‘almacen’ (or storeroom), which would allow him to build the house.

‘We thought we had done everything right. We got legal advice and went through a lawyer in order to get permission to build the home,’ Davey explained. 

But he was later told that his house was one of around 350 that were illegally given planning permission by the former mayor, Juan Vera, who was eventually handed a prison sentence of his own.

Mr Davey was told his house had to be demolished for himself to avoid a six-month prison sentence, with the news coming just after his wife, Diana, died from bowel cancer at the age of 71.

‘Diana fought breast cancer for six years before bowel cancer – I am sure the stress brought it on.’ 

‘But thankfully it is now over,’ he explained. ‘It has been going on for so long now, I’ve finally come to terms with what needs to be done. 

‘Having it demolished was actually a relief,’ he added.

As he still owns the land, he can still live on it – just not in a house.

Despite Friday's demolition also costing him €1,600, he added that it had actually come as 'some sort of relief' having fought the legal battle since 2004, over the house be built in 2003. Pictured: Mr Davey's home in Spain before it was demolished on Friday

Despite Friday’s demolition also costing him €1,600, he added that it had actually come as ‘some sort of relief’ having fought the legal battle since 2004, over the house be built in 2003. Pictured: Mr Davey’s home in Spain before it was demolished on Friday

Mr Davey was told that his house was one of around 350 that were illegally given planning permission by the former mayor, Juan Vera, who was eventually handed a prison sentence. Pictured: Mr Davey's home in Spain after it was demolished on Friday

Mr Davey was told that his house was one of around 350 that were illegally given planning permission by the former mayor, Juan Vera, who was eventually handed a prison sentence. Pictured: Mr Davey’s home in Spain after it was demolished on Friday

Now, the father-of-three is planning a minimalist life staying in a converted van, so that his five dogs still have the space to roam.

‘This land is my home, it is my life and these dogs are all I have left.’

Whether or not he still faces a prison sentence, is yet to be confirmed.

The ex-pat only found out about the potential six-month sentence when a court document was delivered to a neighbour’s house.

‘I went straight to Tolox town hall with it. They told me I shouldn’t have received it yet,’ he recalled. ‘They said they were going to be sending the notification to me once they had stamped it.’

He had never been told about the court case that followed on from a Guardia Civil denuncia for an ‘illegal build’, but Davey’s two-bed home should never have been built according to the Malaga court.

Now, the father-of-three is planning a minimalist life staying in a converted van, so that his five dogs (pictured) still have the space to roam

Now, the father-of-three is planning a minimalist life staying in a converted van, so that his five dogs (pictured) still have the space to roam

In 2016, and then again in 2017, Davey was ordered to knock down his house, but, in common with a neighbour, he waited for more details.

While his Spanish neighbour, Irene Millan, 29, did eventually hear from the court again, she was given six months to ‘legalise’ her property – an option Davey was never given.

However, his neighbour’s apparent good luck turned into a poisoned chalice.

Having spent €20,000 with the town hall to legalise the dwelling, the court finally refused to accept the new paperwork provided by the council.

Instead, demolition was ordered – which went ahead last week.

To add insult to injury Irene’s 54-year-old father, Manuel Millan, whose name was on the deeds, was also sentenced to six months jail and handed a fine of €6 a day for a year.

Whether or not he still faces a prison sentence, is yet to be confirmed. The ex-pat only found out about the potential six-month sentence when a court document was delivered to a neighbour's house

Whether or not he still faces a prison sentence, is yet to be confirmed. The ex-pat only found out about the potential six-month sentence when a court document was delivered to a neighbour’s house

As he still owns the land, he can still live on it - just not in a house. Pictured: Mr Davey, a former builder, uses a JCB digger to demolish his own home

As he still owns the land, he can still live on it – just not in a house. Pictured: Mr Davey, a former builder, uses a JCB digger to demolish his own home

The couple, originally from Suffolk in the UK, spent £130,000 building their property.

‘It came as a package – a plot with a new home on it.’

Davey admits he and his wife were perhaps naive to follow the advice of their lawyer.

The lawyer, from legal firm Manzanares, told them that planning permission would be applied for as an almacen – or ‘warehouse’.

Mr Davey (pictured) was told his house had to be demolished for himself to avoid a six-month prison sentence, with the news coming just after his wife, Diana, died from bowel cancer at the age of 71

Mr Davey (pictured) was told his house had to be demolished for himself to avoid a six-month prison sentence, with the news coming just after his wife, Diana, died from bowel cancer at the age of 71

This way it would come under the remit of Tolox town hall, which would give permission and later they could ‘legalise’ the property.

The language of one legal letter suggests this would be a mere formality, but the property never got legalised.

In fact, the Tolox mayor of the time, Juan Vera, has since been jailed and fined for his part in a scheme.

In most cases the mayor used the very same ‘lax’ procedure of applying to build an ‘almacen’ to try to keep the prying eyes of the Junta authorities away.

‘We thought that was the way things worked in Spain,’ said Davey, a retired builder. ‘We went to see a lawyer and got advice. It turns out that was not the smart thing to do.

‘Why would we deliberately try to build illegally? It makes no sense that we would sell up everything in the UK and risk it all.’

Mr Davey had earlier said that he was forced to ask the town hall for permission to knock his own property down.

‘I will do it myself. I will borrow a JCB from someone and flatten my home of the past 17 years. I will not let the town hall do it and charge me more money.’

It is not the first time British expats have had their homes demolished in Andalucia, with the Priors, in Almeria, the most famous victims.

They still live in the garage of their house today, over 10 years since the house was knocked down in Vera. 

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Two teenagers died after separate incidents in Dublin and Waterford

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Two teenagers have died after separate incidents in Dublin and Waterford on Wednesday.

Gardaí in Ballyfermot responded to a call at an equestrian centre at Tay Lane, Co Dublin, at about 2pm.

Dublin Fire Brigade and the National Ambulance Service attended the scene and provided medical assistance to a 15-year-old girl who was injured during an exercise event.

She was removed to Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin, where she later died.

Gardaí said the coroner has been notified. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has also been notified and will carry out an examination on Thursday.

Gardaí said investigations are ongoing. A file will be prepared for the Coroner’s Court.

Separately, gardaí and emergency services attended the scene of a workplace accident in Dungarvan, Co Waterford on Wednesday afternoon.

A boy was pronounced dead at the scene.

The HSA has been notified and will carry out an investigation. A file will be prepared for the coroner.

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Tritax EuroBox acquires Swedish logistics property for €47m

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Tritax EuroBox continues to expand its presence in the Swedish market with a €47m acquisition. The asset held freehold has a total gross internal area of approximately 28,900m² and comprises two purpose-built logistics facilities (one of 16,200m² and the other 12,700m²), located in the heart of the prime logistics location in the Port of Gothenburg. 

 

The Port of Gothenburg has been ranked as the most attractive logistics location in the Nordics for 20 years by Intelligent Logistik, the leading Nordic logistics media platform. There are currently no vacant logistics buildings in the port area. The Port is home to Scandinavia’s largest container terminal, which is forecast to grow over the coming years. The buildings are fully let to Agility AB, Nordicon AB and Vink Essaplast Group AB, generating a total annual rent of €1.79m on leases with a weighted average unexpired lease term of six years.  The rent reflects a rate of €62.50psm per annum.  All leases are annually indexed to 100% of Swedish CPI.

 

Nick Preston, Fund Manager of Tritax EuroBox, commented: “We are delighted to acquire our first asset in the Nordics which aligns with our disciplined investment approach and our long term strategic goals. The asset held freehold is located in the region’s strongest logistics market and offers asset management upside through working closely with the occupiers to achieve their business plans and increase rents to market levels. We expect to see continued strong market rental growth in the Port of Gothenburg, due to the natural constraint of land supply in the port area, and the increasing demand from occupiers. The Port of Gothenburg has a clear plan for growth, with significant infrastructure investment committed, further strengthening this location.”

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