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New additions make squad representative of a diverse Ireland

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It’s a small world. Isreal Ibeanu is a soccer referee in Dublin who also trains Irish sprinters of African descent. Last weekend his Titans athletics club had Koadchima Ogbene competing in the 100 metres in Belfast.

“With literally no training he ran 11.35,” says Ibeanu, who recently spoke to BBC Newsnight about the violent deaths of his friends and former Isaka Glentoran FC teammates George Nkencho and Toyosi Shittabey.

“It was nowhere near his personal best, which is 10.80 and that’s because he isn’t getting any support to allow him to train. But it was a good day out.

“You might have heard about his little brother . . . ”

Chiedozie Ogbene just broke into the Republic of Ireland senior squad. To call him a late bloomer at 24 would be hotly contested by Mick O’Dwyer’s son.

“Ah the legend of Chiedozie,” says Robbie O’Dwyer, a long serving mentor with Nemo Rangers. “If he stuck to the GAA he would have played for Cork. He had everything – pace, skill, fielding ability. He could even run and read the play.”

Wait now, are we talking about Ogbene or Brian Fenton?

“If only you saw him. We had an Under-21 final in 2015, we were playing Valley Rovers up in Pairc Ui Rinn. He was 18 at the time. From midfield he got 1-2 from play.

Shane Duffy and Chiedozie Ogbene during a training session in Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Shane Duffy and Chiedozie Ogbene during a training session in Andorra. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

“We drew the match and for the replay people came from all over the county, as they had heard about this fella, Chi-Doz-Ee.”

The masses went home disappointed.

“He was tied to Cork City and we had asked for him to be released for the final. We couldn’t have him for the replay, which was a huge loss to us at the time.” Nemo were beaten.

Ogbene was born in Lagos but the Rotherham United right winger accentuates his Corkness as much as anyone raised in the Rebel County, although it took longer to establish this as legal fact due to Fifa’s administrative labyrinth.

History books

Gavin Bazunu is from Firhouse in Dublin, born to a Nigerian father and an Irish mother. The Manchester City goalkeeper, currently on loan to Rochdale, became Shamrock Rovers’ youngest ever player in June 2018 at 16 years and 109 days.

“There was one moment when we walked out of the ground thinking, ‘right, ok,’” remembers Shane Robinson, Rovers academy director. “It was an Under-19s shield final. Gav was only 15 and we had a couple of injuries and we threw him in.

“He is a mannerly kid but I saw him having rows with the Under-19 defenders about protecting his goal. His info was right and he wouldn’t back down.”

Bazunu’s debut for the Republic of Ireland last March, in the 1-0 loss to Luxembourg at Lansdowne Road, will forever illuminate the history books.

“When the first shot went in we were nervous for him,” says Robinson. “The academy had never had someone who played for the first team and gone on to be capped at international level. I think the commentator said it was a nice easy one but it hopped right in front of him, and he killed it.

“How he dealt with the occasion was the same as how he dealt with his debut for our Under-15s, Under-17s, Under-19s. That calming presence, no matter what team he plays with, means defenders trust him. That’s hard to teach.”

Shamrock Rovers permanent move to Tallaght in 2009 offered the club a sprawling, multi-cultural catchment area to recruit from.

“Across our 250 players there are lots of mixed race boys but they are from Tallaght, they are Irish,” Robinson insists. “We transfer players over from Corduff, which is a similar area with similar background of kids, so they can train. I know they won’t be here if we do not do that because the families do not have the means.

“That’s the other side of the story you are writing about – the game can’t be just about taking registration fees and making money,” Robinson continues. “In the last 30, 40 years that’s effectively what it was all about. Even developing a player to sell him to make a few quid or take the reg fees off a thousand kids.

“That money didn’t really get invested anywhere. It’s another article, but the funding element is something we have to look at, properly.”

Rovers paid €6,500 for Bazunu to complete his leaving certificate at Ashfield College parallel to his professional career taking flight at Man City.

Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu is a calm presence between the posts. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho
Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu is a calm presence between the posts. Photograph: Bagu Blanco/Inpho

“Gavin and others did go away but Brexit means that is not going to be happening as much. It is important we treat it serious here and give kids the best opportunity.”

Another brewing issue is the quicker physical development of players with African parents.

“We need to put our heads together because it is not going to stop,” Robinson adds. “I see the talent coming through at Under-14, Under-15 and we have to make sure that others are not lost.

“There are more Andrew’s and more Gavin’s coming through. That’s the really good side of it but we just need to stop all the shite that goes with it around the country.”

Ibeanu offers a wider perspective: “It does not feel like the community is coming together because, I feel, they feel like it is a black problem. It is not for the community to deal with as it is not affecting the white Irish population.

“It effects them when their kid comes home crying because they didn’t get to play today because the manager dropped them for a black player.

“So then the parents come in saying ‘why is my kid not playing?’ and they put pressure on the manager to play them.”

Bias

He suggests that every coach in every club undergoes mandatory training in unconscious bias.

“And the course cannot be given by a white guy, it is given by a black person.”

Andrew Omobamidele, born to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, is from Leixlip in north county Kildare. The Norwich City centre back turns 19 this month, just in time to play Premier League football next season.

“Andrew has this Rolls Royce look about him,” says Kenny Molloy, his coach at Leixlip United. “I remember playing in our first ever All Ireland semi final against the best team in the country, which was St Joseph’s Boys. We were up against it, got beaten one-nil, but we would have lost by more only Andrew was absolutely superb.

“After the game I was asked to step outside the dressing room and the Manchester United scout, Larry Dunne, who passed away recently, God rest him, pulled me over to ask about Andrew.”

It was the easiest conversation Molloy ever had. “You are biased towards your own lads but it was massive to hear Larry say, ‘there is a small bit of Paul McGrath in him’ physically, but also the way he plays.

“I see Andrew going all the way to the top and I’ve probably been afraid to say that out loud. If he gets that bit of luck. He hasn’t had a lot of it. He has sat in my sitting room hearing about other clubs not taking him to England.

“But I do think he is different to what we have had before. He’s a modern centre half who can play through the thirds. Van Dijk has made it all sexy now, hasn’t he?”

Molloy cannot deny the racism he has witnessed in the Dublin District schoolboys league.

“We were a very close team with half the lads of African descent. That became normal for us at the club. It does become a concern as they get older because they become aware of what is being said on the sideline.”

Adam Idah was born and raised in Cork to a Nigerian father and Irish mother. He played for College Corinthians until entering the Norwich City academy in 2017 at age 16.

“He started with us at under six,” remembered ‘Mr Corinthians’ Terry O’Donovan. “A tall, gangly young fella. A really nice, easy going lad, but with electric pace.

“When he filled out he became too strong for a lot of kids his age. Ball over the top, bang.

“One other great asset is that he can strike a ball with either foot. He didn’t have to learn the finer points of the game until he went up the levels and got better coaching in the Ireland under 15 and 16 squads. That brought him on an awful lot.”

Again, O’Donovan has witnessed the first generation of Irish-African children growing up on the city’s pitches.

“Over the years we would play Dublin teams in the national cup. Cherry Orchard would always come down with a big, powerful centre forward.

“The lad with West Ham now, Mipo [ODUBEKO], played in two national cup finals against us for Joeys. It was under 14s but he was built like an adult out on the left wing. They do mature a lot earlier than Irish boys. Put everyone’s attributes together and you will come up with a good team.

“They are generally great young fellas but there may be social factors that prevent all these lads from going on to play with League of Ireland clubs.”

Social factors?

“There are no career opportunities for them. There would be a drop off at 16 of lads playing but the black lads drop off in far greater numbers. That is a terrible pity.”

The Irish men of Nigerian descent in Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland squad would rise to six if Dublin born Premier League strikers Mipo Odubeko and Michael Obafemi were available.

These numbers are only going to rise.

Racism

Toyosi Shittabey was stabbed to death in 2010. George Nkencho was shot by an armed Garda outside his front door in December 2020.

BBC Newsnight also spoke to Ken McCue, the guiding hand behind Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari), about losing two players from the same Insaka Glentoran FC underage team in such harrowing circumstances.

Describing Garda Sergeant Vincent Connolly as one of Insaka’s “three musketeers without weapons,” when Connolly was moved out of Blanchardstown station and stopped travelling to matches in uniform the relations, McCue states, between the police and “the young lads on the street” in the Dublin 15 area suffered “a huge slump.”

Racial profiling of black males is something An Garda Síochána flatly deny, but Omobamidele recently said: “You cannot hide from racial profiling because it is true and it is there in plain sight.”

Last month RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live took up the baton with an entire show dedicated to being young, black and Irish.

Republic of Ireland players Cyrus Christie, Darren Randolph and Idah contributed with Christie’s horrendous experience on social media after defeat to the Denmark in 2018, when someone created an online petition to have him lynched, still leaves a bitter taste in the 28-year old’s mouth.

“The Garda didn’t really do too much about it,” said Christie. “I think it was more to look like they were doing something rather than to make a change and help and put the situation first, even though all the evidence was in front of them.”

Claire Byrne turned to Bashir Otukoya, an assistant professor in DCU’s school of law and government, to ask if Ireland has a serious problem with racism and policing.

“It is a major issue,” Otukoya replied. “It needs to be addressed almost immediately if we are to have that security and that support.

“There is always this denial of the real pandemic in our society, that is racism, and we need to address it and we need to start from our very foundation of support in this country and that is An Garda Síochána. Because we need to have trust in them.”

Next, Assistant Garda Commissioner Paula Hilman – who spent 34 years in the PSNI – spoke about an “enhanced training package” that will be rolled out by 2022.

Emer O’Neill, the teacher and broadcaster sitting in studio, wondered aloud: “If the organisation itself is possibly racist all the training in the world will make no difference.”

Dialogue has never been so important, Otukoya informed The Irish Times.

“We have to filter what we say so that we don’t inconvenience others. In academic language this is called ‘white fragility.’ But everybody needs to get comfortable talking about race.

“The Ireland squad is representative of a diverse Ireland and it is great to see and it is great for the country but underneath this is the fact that although we are seeing a sense of belonging, we are still restricted from being ourselves.”

Professor Otukoya is aware of a “huge recruitment drive for ethnic minority people” by the guards from his role on the government’s anti-racism committee but it is his answer to a straight question about whether An Garda Síochána is institutionally racist that cannot be ignored.

“It is ok to say that the Gardaí are institutionally racist. That is what I do not understand. It is almost as if we are not allowed to say that, as if it is an offence.

“We first have to call it out so we can address the problem. I am not saying it is deliberate. I know Gardaí, I have worked with Gardaí, I am teaching Gardaí so I know they are operating under a process that they have been taught.

“That process is devoid of considerations for diversity because of the way our institutions have risen from 100 years ago, when the state was created, and before that we were under the British system, and you can still see a resemblance of that in our laws, so unless we address institutional racism, which is in most of our public institutions, if not all of them . . .

“Why are we so insistent not to say we have problems with institutional racism when countries such as the UK, the US, the Netherlands – huge countries who have dealt with immigration for years – can admit to institutional racism and are doing something about it?

“Why are we, when we are so new to diversity, saying ‘No, we can’t say that.’ It is perplexing. That is not to say we are being deliberately racist but they do not understand that what they are doing is being racist. That is the point.”

If the Christie situation reoccurred this week, have there been any changes in policing to ensure the perpetrator would be punished?

“There hasn’t been any significant change,” Otukoya concludes. “Not enough to say we are happy, that this is our home where we feel safe and protected.

“There is so much work to be done.”

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Experience of pandemic in Dublin and London worlds apart

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I have spent almost the entirety of the pandemic in London. And though the vertiginous changes in Irish and UK Covid policy over the past 18 months are easy to track through the news, a recent trip back to Dublin offered a fresh perspective.

The atmosphere on the streets is markedly different. And the day-to-day experience of life amid a pandemic worlds apart.

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The rent race! Return to office means tenants are fighting for homes

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Roseanna Lane has found it almost impossible get a two-bedroom property in her price range

Roseanna Lane has found it almost impossible get a two-bedroom property in her price range

Roseanna Lane thought she had plenty of time to find a new flat to rent when she gave notice to her landlord two months ago. 

But despite registering with eight estate agents in Richmond, South-West London, Roseanna and her partner Nick have found it almost impossible to nail down a two-bedroom property in their price range.

Even after raising their budget from £1,500 to £2,000 a month and considering properties farther afield, the couple, both 24, were repeatedly outbid by tenants willing to pay more. 

And they are not alone. Experts warn that the rental market is in chaos following a spike in demand after lockdown — particularly in big cities where workers are returning to the office, and student towns now that universities have reopened.

Agents say properties are being snatched up in as little as 24 hours — in which time applicants are registered, vetted, shown the flat and have their paperwork processed — before tenants move in a few days later. 

Renters also complain of being gazumped by others offering more money at the last minute.

Nervous landlords are desperate for financial security after the Covid-crisis ban on evictions, which only ended in May. 

As a result, many are increasing rents, carrying out stricter income checks and demanding that tenants commit to longer contracts. 

So even those who manage to find somewhere to live now face paying hundreds of pounds more per month, forking out a year’s rent upfront and locking into three-year tenancies for a property that likely doesn’t tick all their boxes.

Supply has also been hit by reforms to the buy-to-let sector, which has left landlords struggling to make a profit after losing lucrative tax breaks. 

Many have sold up to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday and rising house prices. Others have converted their properties to holiday lets.

Picky landlords and huge fee hikes 

Roseanna, who works in technology PR, says: ‘We’d look at a property that was not quite right but before we could make an offer, it was gone. We were refreshing websites such as Rightmove constantly.

‘Some of the prices were ridiculous — I found it sickening. Before lockdown, I was renting a two-bed flat in Richmond with a friend for £1,500 a month, but we were seeing some for as much as £2,250 a month that were just not worth the money.’

The couple were warned about a shortage of properties but thought the agents were just trying to get them to move quickly. 

They were also told that landlords wanted more security and were becoming far fussier about tenants.

Hot property: Agents say properties are being snatched up in as little as 24 hours -  in which time applicants are registered, vetted, shown the flat and have their paperwork processed

Hot property: Agents say properties are being snatched up in as little as 24 hours –  in which time applicants are registered, vetted, shown the flat and have their paperwork processed

Roseanna says: ‘We made sure to emphasise that we are a tidy, professional couple with stable jobs.’

She also found that landlords were unwilling to negotiate on rent. For one flat, the couple offered £1,800 — £100 below the asking price — and it was rejected straight away.

The pair later learnt that the person who secured the tenancy offered more than the price advertised.

They eventually settled on a two-bed flat outside Richmond because they were running out of time. They offered £1,600 a month — £25 more than what was asked.

They had to pay a holding deposit of a week’s rent to secure the property and agree to a three-year contract with a one-year break clause.

Pounce first thing or there’s no hope 

Ida Amegbey, who works for an investment platform, is struggling to find somewhere to live in Bristol.

She says the first hurdle is price. Over the past few years she has seen rent soar. Before the pandemic, a room in a shared house cost between £300 and £500 a month. Now, the starting price is £500. Meanwhile, the cost of a one-bed flat has risen from £600 to about £900.

And with a small pool of eligible properties, securing a viewing, let alone the chance to put your name on a list, is difficult.

Ida, 30, says estate agents are no longer taking your details to let you know when something suitable crops up. 

‘You now need to check the various websites first thing in the morning when new accommodation is listed, accept the earliest available viewing, then hope that by the time you view the flat, someone else hasn’t been for a viewing and requested to take up the listing,’ she says.

‘It’s not a case of finding a place you can afford or you like, or making sure the people you’ll be living with are compatible. You just take what you can get. It is frantic and stressful.’ 

Ida says she has heard of people sleeping on friends’ couches because they haven’t found a place to live after hunting for months on end.

She adds that tenants are also so worried about the rental market, they are putting up with more unfair treatment by landlords.

‘People I know are less likely to contest unfair charges or report too many repairs,’ says Ida. 

‘We feel we are tiptoeing around our landlords. Ours put the rent up by £100 a month at the start of the pandemic when two of my housemates had been furloughed and elsewhere people were losing their jobs. We just paid it.’

Stuck in limbo with time running out 

Bethan Howe has been looking for a four-bed house in Bristol with three other young professionals since June, when their landlord told them he wanted to sell their flat. 

He gave them until the end of September to find something but they have had no luck.

Bethan Howe has been looking for a four-bed house in Bristol with three other young professionals since June

Bethan Howe has been looking for a four-bed house in Bristol with three other young professionals since June 

Bethan, 23, says: ‘There are so few houses available for sharers — and when one does appear, we hardly even get the chance to arrange a viewing before they are booked up or people put in an offer without seeing the house. 

‘Also, one of the people I’m trying to rent with is doing a PhD and although she is salaried, landlords often consider her a student and reject us on that basis.’

Their landlord has now given them until November to move out, but Bethan says she is still not confident they will find somewhere.

Another tenant, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Money Mail she is currently battling her landlord’s demand for an extra £150 a month for a new tenancy once her existing one ends.

The 29-year-old pays £800 a month for a one-bed flat in Manchester, but has been told this will rise to £950. She says: ‘The justification has simply been ‘the market’. It’s crazy this is happening just before Christmas.’

Some pay a year’s rent up front 

There were nearly half (46 per cent) as many homes available to rent across Britain in August compared with the same month last year, according to estate agents Hamptons. 

At the same time, the firm saw an 8 per cent increase in people looking to rent.

The average monthly rent on a new let increased by 7.4 per cent across the country, from £1,010 to £1,085. 

Tenants in the South West of England saw the biggest hikes, with the average rent rising by 13.9 per cent, from £868 to £989, while those in the South East faced rises of 12.8 per cent — £138 more a month.

Along with Wales, Scotland has seen the sharpest drop in rental properties in Britain. As a result, the average rent in Wales has risen by 12.9 per cent while in Scotland it has gone up by 10.8 per cent, according to HomeLet.

Trade body ARLA Propertymark, which represents lettings agents, says the number of tenants being hit by rent increases jumped significantly for the second month in a row in August, with 79 per cent of agents saying landlords were raising rents, compared with 71 per cent in July.

It also reported record high numbers of new prospective tenants, with 107 per branch.

The house-share site Spareroom currently has more ‘room wanted’ adverts than it has postings for rooms available. This is only the third time this has happened in the UK in the past six years (the last was in 2019).

Lucy Devine, lettings consultant at Hamptons in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, says 27 per cent of properties have gone for over the asking price in the past year.

This means an extra £194 a month for landlords, on average.

Tenants hoping to make themselves more appealing to landlords have been offering as much as six months’ rent upfront.

Ms Devine says: ‘I had to block out a whole day for viewings of a four-bed home because the interest poured in. We usually spread viewings over a few weeks.

‘That day we had six offers, with tenants offering above the asking price, longer tenancy agreements and advance rent.’

Tenants who earn average salaries spend almost a quarter of their income on rent, according to the Office for National Statistics — in hotspot London you would have to spend 37.7 per cent of a typical income on rent.

Adam Stone, lettings manager at Winkworth’s Clerkenwell and City office, says: ‘We have been getting dozens of enquiries for all our properties and generally receive up to five or six offers, some well over the asking price.’

Joseph Cooper, from The Keel, a development of 240 apartments in Liverpool, says flats are being snapped up unviewed within an hour of being listed online.

Enquiries were up 1,650 per cent last month compared with the year before, he adds, as young people returned to the city after moving in with their parents during lockdown.

Amelia Greene, director in the prime lettings team at Savills, says the return of international travel, combined with full easing of lockdown restrictions, has sent the market into a frenzy.

She adds: ‘Demand is up across the board, but hotspots in North and East London have been particularly popular. 

In some instances, tenants are ensuring that they are the most appealing candidate by paying for a full year upfront, or by committing to properties unseen.’

Sarah Coles, from investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Generation rent has been hit hard during the crisis. They were more likely to have borrowed money to make ends meet, and those already in debt were more likely to have borrowed more.

‘The pandemic pushed the finances of many of them to breaking point, so a hike in rental costs is the last thing they need.’

a.murray@dailymail.co.uk

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State’s population breaks five-millon mark for first time since Famine era

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Ireland’s population has broken the five-million barrier, while the level of smoking among the Irish has fallen to just 9 per cent.

Those are just two of the diverse facts published this morning by the CSO as part of the Ireland Yearbook 2021.

Publication of the yearbook, an annual snapshot of life in Ireland based on statistics compiled by the CSO, this year begins today with chapters on people and society.

It will continue on Thursday with chapters on business and the economy and will be followed on Friday with the chapters on tourism, agriculture, the environment and Covid-19.

According to the CSO Yearbook 2021, Ireland’s population breached the five million mark for the first time since the 1851 census. The population was estimated to be 5.01 million in April 2021, while the comparable population in 1851 was 5.11 million.

The increase in Ireland’s population was estimated to be 34,000 in the year to April 2021, the smallest increase since 2014 . Intuitively, this may have been due to Covid -19 restricting the movements of international workers, but students of this demographic may have to wait until Friday to fine out definitively.

In terms of regional breakdown Dublin’s population increased by 8,300 in the year to April 2021, bringing the population of the capital to almost 1.43 million, amounting to 28.5 per cent of the State total.

The Midlands, with just over 307,000 people (6.1 per cent), was the region with the smallest population in April 2021.

Smoking is more prevalent in the non-Irish national community than for Irish nationals, the CSO said. Some 17 per cent of non-Irish nationals reported daily smoking compared to just 9 per cent of Irish nationals.

Alcohol consumption and smoking was highest in the 25-34 age group (87per cent of this age group drank alcohol, and 14per cent reported they smoke daily), while the age group 75 years and over reported the lowest levels of alcohol consumption (56 per cent ) and smoking (4 per cent daily).

In other areas of Irish life:

* There were 1,101 breaches of Covid-19 regulations that were classified as crime incidents by An Garda Síochána in 2020, and these included breaches of regulations relating to domestic travel restrictions, licensed premises, wearing of face coverings and international travel.

* Rural households were more likely to report having some or great difficulty accessing a bank (44.2 per cent ) or post office (33.1 per cent) in 2019, compared with urban households at almost 17 per cent and almost 9 per cent, respectively.

*Of those young people who moved back with both parents since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, 22 per cent said their relationship with their father has improved. Some 31 per cent said their relationship with their mother had improved.

“When it comes to life events, births to teenage mothers continues to decrease with 830 births to women under 20 recorded in 2020, compared to 1,199 in 2015.

*Grace pipped Fiadh to the most popular baby name spot for girls. Jack retained the top spot as the most popular boy’s name, while the top three surnames for babies were Murphy at 602 (1.1per cent), Kelly at 523 (0.9 per cent ) and O’Brien at 467 (0.8 per cent).

“Marriage rates more than halved in 2020 most likely as a result of the pandemic. December proved the most popular month for opposite-sex couples to tie the knot as restrictions eased. February was the most popular month for same-sex couples.

The yearbook noted that in 2019 CSO surveys found the South-West reports the highest levels of some form of depression (mild to severe) at 18per cent of people aged 15 years and over. The West region reports the lowest levels of some form of depression at 10per cent.

The pandemic also had an impact on crime, as the total number of recorded crimes in 2020 fell sharply in the categories of burglary and related offences (down by 5,810, or 34.7per cent ) and theft and related offences (down by 16,684, or 24.5per cent ).

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