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Teachers threaten strike action in new academic year



Teachers’ unions are threatening potential strike action unless the Government agrees to prioritise their members for vaccination by the end of the current school year.

The move follows an agreed motion which is being placed before the annual conference of the three teachers’ union on Wednesday.

Delegates at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) voted in favour of a motion this morning. The Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) is currently debating the motion.

The motion commits the unions to ballot for industrial action, “up to and including strike action”, if the Government does not agree to prioritise teachers by the end of the end of June.

The move means there is little prospect of disruption to the current school year and any action would likely take place in the new school year.

However, given that public health experts say all adults will be vaccinated by September, it is doubtful whether any industrial action will take place.

The motion demands that the Government “re-instates education staff as a priority group within the national vaccination programme”, considering the essential nature of their work which requires them to be in daily contact with a large number of persons from a large number of households.

It also demands early vaccination within the overall cohort of education staff, for “pregnant teachers, those in higher risk categories and those who work in special schools, special classes and home school community liaison teachers”.

It adds that in the event that Government does not agree to schedule by the end of the current school year, members across all three unions will be balloted for industrial action, up to and including strike action.

Minister for Education Norma Foley has again defended the decision to change the vaccination programme from an age and occupation-based list to an age-based scheme.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Ms Foley said that it had “never been in the gift” of the Department of Education or of any politician to make a promise on the vaccination programme.

The vaccination list was compiled by National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) and was “100 per cent independent of Government”.

The Minister pointed out that “the science” last December had put the education sector in the “first third” of those to be vaccinated. It had subsequently emerged that the chief concern was that age was the strongest predictor.

The science was very clear, she added. This was not a value judgment on any profession. “It is simply the science that is available to us now.”

When asked about the pledge that had been made to teachers prior to the return to school earlier this year, Ms Foley said that her department had engaged with the Department of Health and had accepted at every stage that the actions of Niac were independent and based on science.

“At every step we indicated that we would accept and adopt the science when it was presented to us.”

Niac had been very clear that age was the basis of the greatest vulnerability and that the older should be catered for first. Dealing with Covid-19 was a learning curve, she said.

The Minister said she accepted that teachers were disappointed in the change in the vaccine schedule, but she felt many accepted the science and that the priority must be the most vulnerable.

Speaking in response to Ms Foley yesterday, INTO general secretary John Boyle warned that teachers must be vaccinated quickly if the Government was to secure their continued co-operation.

The decision to remove teachers from the priority queue showed “blatant disregard” for members’ safety.

“Teachers must be reinstated as a high-priority group to be vaccinated early to ensure that schools can remain open safely,” he said.

He said the Government “broke its promise” in writing that teachers would be in the first third of the population to be vaccinated.

“If Government wants our cooperation to continue, it must fulfil its earlier commitment to our members by vaccinating them quickly,” he said.

“Minister, you need to strengthen your resolve and fight for a twin-track approach to the vaccination programme with age cohorts on the right and essential workers, including those critical for keeping schools open safely, on the left.”

Separately, Ms Foley confirmed that antigen testing was to be rolled out on a pilot basis in schools.

She said it would examine the potential for this rapid testing to be used as an additional measure to sustain the opening of schools.

Ms Foley also said she hoped that supply panels for substitute teachers – which provide speedy access to cover – would be established on a permanent basis to support schools.

These currently provide cover to approximately 2,300 schools by employing almost 330 additional substitute teachers on a full-time basis.

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



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



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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Switzerland’s Credit Suisse settles with star banker over spying scandal



CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign in February 2020 after admitting the bank had hired investigators to follow Khan, head of international wealth management, because he had opted to move to arch-rival, UBS.

As well as sending shockwaves through banking circles, the case sparked a criminal probe in Switzerland.

“All parties involved have agreed to end the case,” Credit Suisse spokeswoman Simone Meier told NZZ am Sonntag, which revealed the agreement.

Meier declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.

The public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich has also ended his investigation, as the complaints have been withdrawn, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Thiam’s resignation followed a torrid six-month scandal that began with revelations in the Swiss press that Khan had been shadowed by agents from a private detective company hired after he joined UBS. 

At one point, Khan physically confronted the people following him.

In October, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned, acknowledging at the end of an internal investigation that he “alone” had ordered the tailing without informing his superiors.

He had wanted to ensure that Khan was not trying to poach other employees, according to the internal investigation.

The case was reopened in December 2019 when the bank admitted to a second case of espionage, this time involving the former head of human resources, and then in February after media reports that the surveillance had also targeted the environmental organisation Greenpeace.

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