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‘They survived physically. Mentally they’re traumatised’

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Eighteen-year-old Mohanad Abuowda should be focused on his Leaving Certificate. Instead he has been riddled with worry for his family living back home in Gaza, Palestine.

The ceasefire, which has been in place since Friday morning, is a “great relief” to Mohanad, and he hopes it will continue.

“This ceasefire has brought one less worry for me… I just hope to see Gaza open and accessible for tourism and trade soon so we can have a proper functioning society,” he says

Recently the windows in his family’s home were smashed. His parents and three sisters, the youngest of which is nine, have been sleeping all together in the kitchen for safety.

“If something were to happen they feel at least they were together,” he says.

It is difficult to communicate with them, as the power often cuts out due to damaged electricity lines and energy shortages.

“I worry about them and I wanted to help them, but there was no way to do that,” he says.

Since fighting began on May 10th, health officials in Gaza say at least 232 Palestinians have been killed, including 65 children, and more than 1,700 wounded in air and artillery bombardments. According to the Israeli military, at least 160 of the fatalities were militant fighters. In Israel, 12 civilians have been killed, as well as a soldier, and more than 600 people injured.

Mohanad, a talented footballer, came to Ireland alone and with little English at the age of 15. He was granted refugee status, but as a minor he was not able to travel back to visit home. Anyway, it is not safe to try to enter Palestine right now, he says: “It is hard that I cannot go there, but I cannot bring them here either.”

The sixth-year student has seen it before himself. He recalls hearing rockets and bombs outside his home during previous wars. “I remember how hard it was… They are bombing all around you. The power of that rocket is unreal. You feel as though you are in a movie.”

Hide from rockets

Tareq Altorak, also 18, came to Ireland for similar reasons. He graduated from the Le Cheile school in Tyrrelstown, Dublin on Thursday, but he says the day felt “pointless” without his family safely by his side.

The Leaving cert student has many siblings back home, including a two-year-old sister. They should be getting educational opportunities like he is, but instead they have learned how to hide from rockets, he says.

“My sister had to stop going to school. She is very smart. Kids need to go to school… All they have is wars, attacking and people getting killed,” he says.

His family home is situated in the most dangerous area of Gaza, he says, as it is close to where members of Hamas are based. Many nearby have lost their homes.

“A few days ago they had to leave because they got a call from the Israelis to say they would bomb our house. It did not happen in the end, thank God,” he adds.

Tareq feels “a bit more comfortable” after the announcement of the ceasefire: “My family is going to be fine for now, but the damage Israel has done is still there… At least there is no bombing.” Although they have respite from the airstrikes, it will be difficult to resume their lives, he says: “They still need money, food on the table and clothes, but all of the shops are closed.”

Tareq came to Ireland in search of a “better life”: “I wanted a peaceful life and I didn’t want to get killed.” Despite the ceasefire, he knows now “for sure” that there is little hope of improving the lives of his family if they remain in Palestine.

“What I wish for is to get my family here as soon as possible. I remember being there; I know it is not safe.”

Worry

Dublin resident Fatin Al Tamimi could barely sleep, eat or think with the worry she felt for her family living in Gaza during the airstrikes.

“I am very relieved that they have survived physically. Mentally they are traumatised… You can see the fear,” she says.

Among those killed in recent days were 50 people living in the buildings next to the home of Al Tamimi’s aunt, who had to flee her home in recent days.

Fatin’s 12-year-old niece has been telling her how she was “terrified” when the ground shook. “They sleep together in the middle of the floor… You cannot imagine the terror,” she says. The situation has been “more than worrying; it is devastating”.

Fatin has lived in Ireland for more than 20 years. She was born in Qatar to Palestinian parents who were not allowed to return to their homeland, she says. Chair of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, her name is on a blacklist banning her from re-entering Palestine due to her activism. She would return to Gaza in a heartbeat if she knew it was safe.

“I used to spend summers in Palestine. The last time I went I was about 13 years old… Now I have no right to go back.”

She clings to hope, as all Palestinians do, that this fresh ceasefire will last, she says. “The messages and the calls from my family give me strength. I feel they are stronger than me.” She prays it will be possible and safe to meet her mother and sister in Jordan this summer so they can grieve for her father, who died two months ago.

“Hopefully my sister can stay safe. We still have that hope that we will meet in July.”

Smell of death

Yaser Alashqar, adjunct assistant professor of international peace studies at Trinity College Dublin, has been hearing from his family how the “smell of death and destruction is everywhere around them”.

Like the rest of the people and families in Gaza they are “terrified and traumatised” from the 11 days of fighting, he says.

“Gaza is under Israeli blockade and they are trapped and cannot escape. There is no safe space in Gaza.”

He recalls a “depressing” situation when he visited his homeland two years ago. He says Israel’s militarised policies and blockade of Gaza continue under the pretext of undermining the power of Hamas, but this a “collective punishment” on the entire people.

“As I saw it on the ground, the majority of Gaza’s young population have a desire to leave because of the worsening living conditions,” he adds. Covid-19 and high case numbers has made Gaza’s plight “more critical”, he says.

While European states had called for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid, Yaser says they are “still unwilling to push for longer-term solutions or challenge Israel’s policy of occupation and apartheid in the Palestinian territories”.

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Happy in Hexham: We visit the Northumberland town voted the jolliest place to live

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Driving into Hexham, I cross a sturdy stone bridge spanning the Tyne. The satnav is set for the Market Place, but forget about parking there or in the short-stay.

In fact, I’m forced back down the hill to the huge car park by Waitrose. Not many spaces here either. Maybe everyone is flocking to Hexham after the property website Rightmove announced this week that it’s the Happiest Town in Britain.

Or maybe, it’s just a normal weekday: Northumberland is a huge county and this is the only realistic place to do your shopping if you live between Newcastle and Carlisle.

Convivial: Hexham¿s Market Place. The market town was a frontline settlement in the medieval skirmishes and wars between Scotland and England

Convivial: Hexham’s Market Place. The market town was a frontline settlement in the medieval skirmishes and wars between Scotland and England

Fortunately, it’s only a short walk uphill on Hallgate from the car park to the Market Place, enough to establish the demographics of this northern market town. 

Hallgate is a winding row of fine Georgian houses — there’s a memorial mason, chic hairdresser’s, three cafes, four art galleries. And Waitrose.

The huge, impregnable cube of the old gaol in the centre of town is a reminder of a more turbulent history.

This was a frontline settlement in the medieval skirmishes and wars between Scotland and England. 

That noble, heroic William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace terrorised Northumbria in 1297 — something Mel Gibson managed to leave out of his movie — though the monks of Hexham Abbey struck a deal to save the town.

If today’s residents are ecstatic at their Rightmove award, they are hiding it well. The newsagent hasn’t read the newspapers describing Hexham’s triumph.

But at the Grateful Bread artisan baker in Market Street, I’m told: ‘Aye, they’re happy enough around here.’

An informative welcome: Hexham boasts chic shops, a bustling High Street and the ancient kingdom of Northumbria on its doorstep - as well as rows of fine Georgian houses

An informative welcome: Hexham boasts chic shops, a bustling High Street and the ancient kingdom of Northumbria on its doorstep – as well as rows of fine Georgian houses

I buy one of the shop’s fine sourdough loaves, noting that the £4 price tag wouldn’t be out of place in the second happiest town on Rightmove’s list, swanky Richmond in South-West London.

The story that made the biggest difference to the town isn’t the two Rightmove wins (they also won the Happy gong in 2019), but Country Life’s description of Hexham as ‘the best market town in Britain’. That was in 2005.

Some residents describe the property market here as BCL and ACL — Before and After Country Life. 

And the houses on offer are a far cry from the ‘small, spare, dour’ cottage the writer Joan Aiken encountered when she first came here in the 1930s. But like many southerners, she stayed.

I do find some people who aren’t overly happy: estate agents. That might seem odd. After all, a major property website has just given their town a big shot in the arm. 

At Pattinson estate agents, situated on the wonderfully named Priestpopple, manager and senior valuer Marc Hydelman tells me prices ‘have shot up. And as an estate agent I ought to be pleased — we’re up 60 per cent on last year. Crazy.’ He is also happy he moved here from Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, 29 years ago.

So why the unhappiness? ‘Supply can’t keep up with demand,’ says Mr Hydelman. As a result, you will struggle to find any properties for sale in Hexham town centre.

‘Lack of supply is hitting both rentals and sales,’ agrees Ed Seymour of Foster Maddison. ‘Some vendors are being aspirational with prices, but good stock is selling fast — often over the asking price. We have had more best and final offers at closing dates than we have ever had — it sounds great, but the volume of sales is still down hugely’.

 Hexham is handsome and agreeable. That said, I can name half a dozen English market towns I’ve visited in the past three years alone that can rival it

Hexham is handsome and agreeable. That said, I can name half a dozen English market towns I’ve visited in the past three years alone that can rival it: Malvern, Tetbury, Shaftesbury, Uppingham, Diss, Market Harborough.

What you don’t get in those towns is an average price of under £300,000 for a house. And you also don’t get the ancient kingdom of Northumbria on your doorstep. 

As the winter light fades, I drive north to a section of Hadrian’s Wall at Carrawburgh. Here, sunken in a farmer’s field, are the remains of a temple dedicated to the Roman god Mithras.

It’s not the most impressive Roman ruin. But then I gaze north and south and see England’s most magnificent county stretching as far as the eye can see. There’s not a soul in sight. And that makes a lot of people happy. 

On the market… Cheery homes 

Bellingham: There are two bedrooms in this cottage in Bellingham, which is 16 miles north of Hexham and close to the Northumberland National Park. Pattinson, 01434 605 376. £165,000

Hexham: This four-bedroom house is on Laurel Road on the outskirts of the town. There is a single garage and the property is surrounded by woodland. Red Hot Property, 01434 601 800. £375, 000  

Fourstones: The Gables has five bedrooms, sweeping country views and is a ten-minute drive from Hexham. The home is in the village of Fourstones. Finest Properties, 01434 622 234. £565,000

 

 

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Everybody over 16 to get booster shots following Niac recommendations

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Everybody over the age of 16 in the State will now be offered booster shots following a decision by the Department of Health based on advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

The booster shot will be offered in order of preference to pregnant women first, then those aged 40 to 49 and finally those aged between 16 and 39 in descending order starting with the oldest first.

They will receive their extra jab in these cohorts at least five months after their last vaccine, but, in the case of those who have been given the one shot Janssen vaccine, the gap will be at least three months.

Those who have had Covid-19 after being fully vaccinated before will have to wait at least six months following infection to receive their dose.

It now means that everybody over the age of 16 will be offered a booster as Niac has already approved the shots for everybody who is 50 or over.

Booster shots were first recommended for those over 80 or those over the age of 65 in nursing homes in September. Last month the programme was extended to 60 to 79 year olds and on November 15th to those between 50 and 59.

This advice received by Niac reflects the recommendations made in respect of booster doses in the latest European Centre of Disease Control (ECDC) rapid risk assessment which recommends that countries should consider a booster dose for all adults with priority being given to people aged 40 years of age and above.

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it will be some time before the new cohorts get their vaccine as they have not reached the recommended gap since the second dose.

“We continue to prioritise boosters because we know that they are having a positive impact on the level of hospitalisation, severe illness and mortality from Covid-19 in those aged over 70,” Mr Donnelly said.

The HSE has started offering walk-in clinics for Covid-19 booster vaccines to people in their 60s and to healthcare workers at designated times through its vaccination centres.

In a speed-up of the booster programme, the walk-in clinics will be available to eligible groups once it has been at least five months since their second dose of a Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca jab in their initial vaccinations, or three months since the individual received the single Janssen vaccine.

The booster rollout will also be accelerated for those who are in their 60s.

Damien McCallion, the HSE’s national lead for vaccinations and testing, said that many of the 470,000 people in their 60s will only become eligible for boosters over the coming weeks.

The walk-in clinics will allow the HSE to administer booster doses more quickly. Details of the times and locations of the walk-in vaccinations are available on the HSE’s website.

“We are very conscious that life has moved on for many people and it isn’t always possible for people to come forward on an appointment basis,” he told the weekly HSE briefing.

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How can I ensure my listed home’s kitchen extension has right approvals? 

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I’m buying a listed property and want to make sure a recent kitchen extension was done with the right approvals. 

How do I check this and protect myself on this front? LP

Before buying a period property, check for the correct consents if any renovation work was carried out

Before buying a period property, check for the correct consents if any renovation work was carried out

MailOnline Property expert Myra Butterworth replies: Before buying a period property with a recent kitchen extension, you will need to check that the relevant consents were sought.

This is because you will inherit the liability for any unauthorised work undertaken by the vendor.

Ultimately, this risk can be removed completely by reversing the works carried out – if that is possible – or by applying retrospectively for consent for the kitchen extension.

There are compromises that can be made, including looking at an indemnity insurance that will cover you and bank against the cost of rectifying unauthorised alterations.

And if you are a cash buyer, then you can decide to proceed on the basis that you will accept the risk for the lack of consent.

Vanessa Rhodes, of law firm Kingsley Napley, said: If you’re looking to buy a house that is listed, it is likely to be a unique and interesting property full of character. You are right that being listed means there are additional controls over any works to the property.

The National Heritage List for England protects buildings of special architectural or historical interest, which are considered to be of national importance. It means listed building consent is required for all works of demolition, alteration or extension to a listed building.

Local planning authorities provide approval for works to listed buildings. Where the works have an impact on the external appearance of the building, planning permission may also be required and should be applied for at the same time. 

For example, this may include building an extension or installing new windows and doors. 

Below, Vanessa covers what you need to know: 

How do I check necessary consents were obtained?

Make sure that you instruct a specialist heritage surveyor to review the property and all the planning and listed building consents for the property to verify the corrects consents were obtained.

This can be in addition to having a regular building survey carried out or some surveyors will do both in one survey. 

The heritage survey should make clear whether the kitchen extension was approved, and what to do if it isn’t. 

You can get heritage surveyors that will do both in one survey and charge the same as a standard building survey but frequently, clients will instruct one in addition to the building surveyor and they are usually slightly cheaper.

Heritage surveys also provide historic building and heritage conservation advice to assist buyers who will be responsible for the practical care of historic buildings.

Your solicitor will review the results of the local authority search for the property, which reveals all the permissions obtained from the local planning authority for the property. 

They will also raise enquiries with the seller to find out if the right consents have been obtained and check that any conditions on the listed building consents have been discharged or, if there are on-going conditions that they are being complied with.

Your solicitor and heritage surveyor will also check to see if the work was done before the building was listed. If this is the case, there will be no issue as no listed building consent will have been needed.

Why is checking important?

It is essential to check if the previous owners obtained the relevant consents because you will inherit the liability for any unauthorised work they undertook.

Given there is no time limit on enforcement action, you may be required to reverse the alteration at any time in the future. In effect, therefore you may potentially have to ‘undo’ or alter the kitchen extension if it lacked approval. 

This could be costly and may reduce the value and your enjoyment of the property, so should be carefully considered before proceeding with the purchase.

It is also a criminal offence not to seek listed building consent when it is required. 

The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine. Not knowing a building is listed, or claiming the works were carried out by a previous owner are not defences to any criminal proceedings.

Your options as a buyer

As the buyer, you need to consider the extent of any liability you might take on before proceeding with the purchase. 

If you find that works have been carried out to the property without the appropriate consents or the listed building consent conditions have been breached, you will need to consider the extent of the breach. 

The heritage surveyor will normally guide you as to whether you will be able to obtain retrospective listed building consent for the breach and which breaches could be problematic.

If the kitchen extension was not approved, there are various things that you can do as part of the conveyancing process to alleviate any stress or anxiety about the consent, and ultimately protect yourself.

The way to remove the risk completely is to reverse the alteration – if possible – or for you or the seller to apply retrospectively for consent for the kitchen extension. 

You may elect to negotiate a conditional contract with the seller, which stipulates that you will only complete the purchase of the property when the seller has obtained retrospective consent for the kitchen extension if it was unapproved.

Most sellers will be reluctant to agree to this approach because if they apply for retrospective consent and are unsuccessful, then it draws the issue to the attention of the local planning authority who are then likely to serve an enforcement notice on the seller in relation to the alterations.

Alternatives include negotiating a price reduction to cover the costs and hassle of obtaining retrospective consent for the extension after completion. 

Any price negotiation should include recognition of the fact that the buyer will be accepting the risk for the lack of consent, and any liability that comes with it.

If you are a cash buyer, then you can decide to proceed on the basis that you will accept the risk for the lack of consent. 

However, if you are using a mortgage, the bank will require you to obtain indemnity insurance, which will cover you and the bank against the cost of rectifying unauthorised alterations. 

You will need to discuss the indemnity insurance policy with your solicitor though as they often include provisions that invalidate the policy if you approach the local planning authority for consent for any works in the future.

For example, if you want to carry out alterations to another part of the property and apply for consent then this could invalidate the policy. 

There are some more bespoke indemnity policies available that might get round this problem but these policies can be costly or have a high excess.

Another factor to bear in mind is that if the kitchen extension was carried out without proper consent, then you, in turn, will have to deal with this problem as part of any future sale of the property unless you and the seller can resolve the issue now, either by removing or adapting the alterations or by obtaining retrospective consent.

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