At Dublin Airport early on Monday morning Martina Mincica was excited to fly home to see family in Italy for the first time in nine months.
Ms Mincica (39) and her wife Amanda O’Regan (41), living in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, had waited eagerly for restrictions to ease so they could fly to Verona on Monday, the “very first day” of non-essential international travel, said Ms Mincica.
It is anticipated that around 22,500 travellers will pass through Dublin Airport on Monday. It is a 50 per cent increase on the same day last week, but the numbers are a small fraction of the 116,163 passengers seen on July 19th, 2019.
Logistically, the trip has not been plain sailing for the Tipperary residents. Although they have long been double-jabbed, their European Union Digital Covid Certs have not yet materialised.
“We have our HSE card, but I am not sure they will take it. We decided to book the test to be safe,” she said. The cert is also required for indoor dining in Italy and for their return trip, so they will continue to hound the emergency Covid cert helpline, Ms O’Regan said.
Watching Italy’s fight against the pandemic from afar in Nenagh has been difficult, said Ms Mincica. The pain has also been personal, as her uncle died at Christmas.
“We got to see them all in October… But we couldn’t travel to go to the funeral. It was tough, but I think back then it was the right thing as it was very unsafe to go there,” she said.
There are no nerves about the flight itself. The masks are a comfort, said Ms O’Regan, and they would not be going if they were not inoculated.
The McGettigan family of four from Terenure, Dublin, were looking forward to their first holiday in two years in the Algarve. Youngest child Lucy, who will turn five in Portugal, does not remember ever going on holidays abroad, explained father Patrick McGettigan.
The two-week family holiday was booked for the summer of 2020, with rolling cancellations leading them, coincidentally, to July 19th.
“It was just lucky that the date fell on the day they were opening up, so we decided then we would go ahead of it,” said Catherine McGettigan.
There is apprehension for the “unknown” ahead of them on their travels and in Portugal.
“So far, so good. The airport doesn’t look as packed as I thought it would,” Ms McGettigan said.
Leaving his parents to worry about documentation, seven-year-old Danny has more important things on his mind: the “slides and things” at Slide & Splash waterpark, he said.
Dearbhla Lawler and her sons Bobby (15) and Donnacha (7) were travelling to Italy’s Lake Garda region to visit her 19-year-old daughter who has been working there since June.
All three were tested for the virus, even though Ms Lawler is fully-vaccinated: “Because it today is the first day you could travel, I wasn’t quite sure if the vaccine passport would work. I wanted to be doubly sure we would get on the plane,” she explained.
The guidelines have been “confusing”, she added, as information websites have said slightly different things.
“I checked numerous sites… trying to clarify exactly what documentation we needed to be ready and what we needed to return,” she said.
The trio hasn’t boarded a flight since 2019, making it the “longest time since we haven’t been away”, Ms Lawler added.
One floor below, in Arrivals, Sligo man and diplomat Liam O’Flaherty was reuniting with family for the first time in six months.
He and his wife are both vaccinated and decided to wait until the 19th to travel to Ireland under the new rules: “We now don’t need to do the whole self-isolation, PCR test and the rest. It made it easier… It has been a long time since we have seen my family,” he said.
Living in Paris, the couple flew to Dublin from Leeds after spending some time with relatives there.
France has “kind of gone back to normality”, said Mr O’Flaherty, adding that he anticipates some more restrictions in Ireland.
“The general anxiety around it seems higher in Ireland,” he noted.
Over in Terminal 2, Mary Connolly greeted with a tight hug her daughter Kaitlyn Connolly, who had travelled from Newark, in the United States. Both living in Virginia, Rathfarnham-born Mary Connolly arrived last week, before restrictions eased, and has been isolating at her parents’ house until Monday morning.
“I was going to change my flight, but with the case numbers they couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t have to isolate… I thought I would just take a chance and go,” said Mary Connolly, who is staying until the end of August to “make up for lost time”.
The mother and daughter have not been to Ireland since New Year 2020: “It has just been amazing to see everyone,” said Mary Connolly.
“It has been a long 20 months… My parents are elderly; it is hard not seeing them,” she said.
This Irish trip is all about family, Mary Connolly added: “Honest to God, just to be together. When you don’t have it for so long it is amazing to get it back.”
US prosecutors in R Kelly’s sex trafficking case say he had sexual contact with an under-age boy in addition to girls, and the government wants jurors in his upcoming sex-trafficking trial to hear those claims.
Federal prosecutors aired a wide-ranging raft of additional allegations – but not new charges – against the R&B singer in a court filing on Friday.
Jury selection is due to start August 9th in a New York federal court for Kelly, who denies ever abusing anyone.
The Grammy Award-winning singer is charged with leading what prosecutors call a criminal enterprise of managers, bodyguards and other employees who allegedly helped him to recruit women and girls for sex and pornography and to exercise control over them.
The charges involve six different women and girls, who are not named in court filings.
Now, prosecutors would also like jurors to hear about more than a dozen other people whom the government alleges that Kelly sexually or physically abused, threatened or otherwise mistreated.
Among them, the government says, was a 17-year-old boy and aspiring musician whom Kelly met at a McDonald’s in December 2006 and later invited to his Chicago studio.
According to the prosecutors’ court filing, after asking the boy what he would do to make it in the music business, Kelly propositioned and had sexual contact with him while he was still under-age.
And when Kelly was about to go on trial on child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, the same youth told the singer he had access to a juror, and Kelly asked him to contact the juror and vouch he was a “good guy”, prosecutors wrote.
The filing does not say whether the youth did so. Kelly was acquitted in that case.
The boy also introduced Kelly to a 16- or 17-year-old male friend, with whom prosecutors say the singer began a sexual relationship several years later.
Kelly also filmed the two youths in sexual encounters with other people, including some of Kelly’s girlfriends, according to the filing.
Prosecutors wrote that the accounts of the boys and others would help show that the actual charges “were not isolated events and were part of a larger pattern”.
The multiplatinum-selling singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is known for work including the 1996 hit I Believe I Can Fly and the cult classic Trapped In The Closet, a multi-part tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
Kelly’s private life has drawn scrutiny since the 1990s, and he currently is also facing sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota. He has pleaded not guilty.– AP
For some areas, the German Weather Service has forecast heavy showers or storms, bringing between 30 and 40 litres per square metre.
Amid further rainfall on Saturday afternoon, evacuation services to emergency accommodation were offered to communities in Rheinland-Palatinate who had been particularly badly affected by the flooding, German news site Merkur reported.
“The people will have to make the decision themselves,” said Begona Hermann, head of the relief teams in the west German state, explaining that the forecast rainfall was not expected to be as severe as that which devastated parts of Germany last week.
However, even lower levels of rainfall could still be a problem because sewage and drainage systems were not working properly because of the flooding.
Earlier on Saturday, police requested all volunteers working on the clean-up operation in the Ahr area to leave as quickly as possible for their own safety because of the difficult conditions.
This came after the police and the crisis management team asked the public not to travel to Rhineland-Palatinate to help out because there were too many people there.
“The population’s willingness to help continues to be undiminished and overwhelming,” read a Kassel police statement on Saturday. Due to the large number of volunteers who came to help out, however, roads in the area are now congested, it said.
Heavy machinery required for road and bridge construction, and for the restoration of the area’s water supply, was getting stuck in traffic jams, the press release said.
Vehicles for removing rubbish and construction debris, as well as emergency and rescue vehicles, were also unable to get through.
In their latest display of unrivalled spirit and class on the water, Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy cruised to victory in their heat of the men’s lightweight double sculls at the Sea Forest Waterway on Saturday morning, reminding all those present the Irish boat is unquestionably the one to beat in Tokyo.
With only the top two sure of advancing to Tuesday’s semi-final there wasn’t much room for error, as some of the other Irish boats would discover, only the Cork duo made sure and then some, almost five seconds clear of runners-up Czech Republic who came through to beat Poland into third.
For the reigning World and European champions, it was business as usual in every sense.
“It is, it is just a normal regatta, it’s no different to any other,” said O’Donovan with his undaunted trademark.
“I suppose it went reasonably well, yeah, we won the race and it’s hard to do much better than win the race. And you don’t want to win it by 20 seconds either because it’s very hot out there. I’m not saying we could have won it by 20 seconds. It was still tough, like. All the races at this regatta will be tough but it is difficult to complain with that result as well.”
McCarthy, rowing in his first Olympics, agreed: “Just more so getting a race down the course. Once we’re out of the village and down here it just feels like a normal regatta really. It was nice to get the first one done. We row and train in all different conditions anyway so we are well used to whatever wind gets thrown at us. Just being adaptable and doing what we do in training.”
In a similar display of coolness in the face of the searing heat, the Irish women’s four of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty booked their place straight into Wednesday’s final, after a superbly timed effort that saw them finish just 0.2 of a second behind favourites Australia.
“It was exciting, great to get going,” said Keogh. “We had been waiting since yesterday when the rest of the crew started and then this morning as well, kind of sitting there waiting to go in, so it was a relief to go out there and give a good performance.
“We hadn’t raced that crew specifically before. The last time we would have come up against an Australian crew was 2019. So it’s been a long time since we raced them.
“I think our time was pretty similar [to what we had been doing]. I think the Australians got an Olympic best today. We were obviously just point two behind them. In these conditions it’s hard to read into times. We were the faster heat of the two but we saw yesterday with the other races, the times were changing quite rapidly in the conditions so it’s not something we’d rely on. We wanted to test every element of our race. It wasn’t a case of bringing it down coming into the last bit, we wanted to practice our final sprint and all that so yeah we did go for it.”
There were mixed results for the other three Irish crews on the water: in the women’s lightweight doubles, Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen ended up fifth in their heat, 14.20 seconds off the leading French crew. Again only the top two here went directly to the semi-finals, which means the Irish pair will be back in action in Sunday’s repechage.
Likewise with Aileen Crowley and Monika Dukarska, who missed out on automatic qualification to the women’s pair semi-finals. The New Zealand crew took top spot ahead of Denmark, before Spain surged late on to pip the Irish crew.
“For us it was more about focusing on our strategy and executing that to the best of our ability. Again, the start didn’t go as well as we hoped for but the rest of the race we were quite pleased with,” said Dukarska, confident the pair can produce a more complete performance on Sunday.
Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne know they will too. After Friday’s poor showing in the heats, they managed to claim third in their repechage and with that book a place in the men’s doubles semi-final, only they still appear to be struggling to find their rhythm.
Here, Lithuania surged late to take the win, Doyle and Byrne finishing in third spot behind Germany and Lithuania. “We were struggling a small bit again today, similar to yesterday,” admitted Byrne. “We’re just searching for something to click, we’re not quite sure what it is. We’re searching for that tomorrow which is obviously going to be the hardest of the rounds so far.”
Doyle realised too it’s make-or-break time: “There are any number of reasons why – heat, conditions, salt water and all that but everyone is in the same boat, well not the same boat but the same conditions. We’re fairly confident that if we can find that click tomorrow the boat will take off and hopefully we’ll be able to do what we know we’re capable of because at the moment we definitely feel we’re underperforming and not living up to where we want to be and what we expect from ourselves and expect from everyone else in the team. Because obviously Sanita and the lightweight team set such a precedent and we’re trying to live up to that and show we’re at that level as well which we know we can be if we can get the magic back in the boat.”
Also coming through the Tokyo morning with impressive class and ease at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre was Rhys McClenaghan, who underlined his status as one of the gold medal favourites with an excellent score of 15.266 in his qualifying group.
This left the 22 year-old well clear of his next best rival in that qualifying group, the Russian-born New Zealand gymnast Mikhail Koudinov taking second in that group with a score of 12.466. Interestingly, in 2018 McClenaghan won European gold with a score of 15.300, and in 2019 he won World bronze with 15.400.
“To say now that I’m officially an Olympian is a dream come true,” he said. “We were prepared as we could be, and I think there’s a lot more there for finals, so we’ll just keep relying the preparation so far. I’ve set the standard for the day anyway.”
Elsewhere, boxing began its Olympic schedule with good news from Tokyo’s Kokugikan Arena, where Kurt Walker came through his preliminary round of 32 in the men’s featherweight competition.
Walker won on a unanimous decision against Spain’s Jose Quiles Brotons, all five judges siding with the Lisburn boxer and 2017 European champion.
Crisp and athletic from the beginning, Walker fought from a distance and even though the Spaniard, nicknamed ‘Crazy Horse’, came out more aggressively by eating up Walker’s lead in the second round, the 26-year-old Irishman held his composure and steadied himself nicely to win the third round.
“I thought I dominated the first and third,” said Walker afterwards. “The second he gave it his all but he had nothing left in the third. But he is very good and I had to dig deep it was a great first fight for me.
“Whenever he had a good second round the corners were telling me he has given his all, go out and go back to your boxing. I got a bit nervous. It was a wee bit different. I knew what I had from experience.”
But the last 12 months following the postponement of the 2020 Games until this summer has helped with the cultivation of Walker’s boxing overall. He believes he is better equipped to go further in the competition.
“I have started to mature a bit,” said Walker. “It helps what I am fighting for and I know she (my baby daughter Layla) is going to be proud of me when she is older.”
A clash of heads late in the third round and a cut appearing above Walker’s right eye came too late in the bout to cause any great anxiety as he moves forward to meet the top seed in the division on July 28th.
As has been the case with several of the Irish fighters the draw has not been kind and Walker faces another challenge against Uzbeki Mirzakhalilov Mirazizbek, a professional boxer with one win in the paid ranks and the amateur World Champion in 2019.
“He has two arms and two legs like myself, it doesn’t bother me,” said Walker. “If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. I have won a fight in the Olympics more than I thought I would do a year ago so I’m happy and I will keep going.”
In Taekwondo Dublin’s Jack Woolley became one of the early casualties when he lost a close match to Argentinean 11th seed Lucas Guzman 22-19 in the 57kg division.
Guzman earned the winning score in the last three seconds of the bout adding to Woolley’s dismay in a contest he would have been expected to win.
The Tallaght 22-year-old, who was seeded at six in the competition, still has an avenue to move forward in the repechage, where the best outcome is a bronze medal.
Any athlete who loses to a finalist in the single elimination competition enters the repechage. If Guzman makes it to the final, then Woolley goes into the repechage.
But a stunned Woolley left the arena disconsolate with the surprising reversal in his and Ireland’s first ever taekwondo outing in an Olympic Games.
“I’m very disappointed, everything was good in the lead up, in our prep. I felt physically great going in,” said Woolley.
“I walked in today and something just didn’t click, it just wasn’t my day. I have to keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best this evening. Sport is unpredictable. I hope everyone else he fights has a similar performance to me, but we have to see – he has to get to the final first.”
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