The military and authorities have previously said they have defeated the FACT rebel group only for fighting to continue.Chad’s military has claimed victory in its weeks-long battle with northern rebels that led to the death of President Idriss Deby on the front line.
The rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) did not respond to a request for comment on the military’s claim on Sunday. The transitional military authorities have previously said they have defeated the rebels only for fighting to continue.
The fighting and broader political instability are being closely watched. Chad is a key power in central Africa and a longtime Western ally against rebel fighters across the Sahel region.
Crowds in the capital N’Djamena cheered on Sunday as soldiers returned from the front line in a column of tanks and armoured vehicles.
“The triumphant return of the army to the barracks today heralds the end of operations and Chad’s victory,” the army’s Chief of the General Staff Abakar Abdelkerim Daoud told reporters.
At an army base in N’Djamena, dozens of captured rebels sat in the dirt, on display for the assembled press.
A group of captured FACT rebels are displayed together with their confiscated weapons and vehicles at the headquarters of the Chadian Army in N’Djamena [AFP]FACT fighters crossed the border from Libya in April to take a stand against Deby, whose 30-year rule they opposed. His subsequent death while visiting troops plunged the country into crisis.
On Saturday, security forces fired tear gas to disperse a protest against the ruling military council. Led by Deby’s son Mahamat Idriss Itno, the council seized power after the former’s death, promising to oversee an 18-month transition to elections.
Opposition politicians and civil society have denounced the takeover as a coup and called for supporters to take to the streets. At least five people were killed during a protest on April 27.
French President Emmanuel Macron had signalled strong backing of the military during Deby’s funeral which he attended, sitting next to Deby’s son Mahamat. But the French government has since shifted, calling for a civilian national unity government.
People had planned a further protest on Sunday, but postponed it out of fear the authorities planned to suppress it violently, Mahamat Nour Ibedou, a prominent human rights activist, told Reuters news agency.
The military council had given permission for a protest on Sunday.
Paul Johnson has a vivid memory of one of his most dispiriting moments as the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent.It was April 1986 and he was covering a Democratic Unionist party (DUP) conference. A warmup speaker for the party leader, Ian Paisley, electrified the audience with a suggestion.US warplanes had just bombed Libya, he said, so why shouldn’t British warplanes bomb republican strongholds in Northern Ireland? In fact, why not bomb towns in the Republic of Ireland such as Dundalk and Drogheda? Why not bomb Dublin?Two women in the front row continued knitting, apparent descendants of the French Revolution’s tricoteuses, while the audience stamped and cheered, Johnson recalls. “He said the south hadn’t earned the right to be treated as a civilised country. The crowd went absolutely mad. I felt quite depressed about that.”It was the mid-point of the 30-year Troubles and there was abundant reason to be depressed about Northern Ireland: almost weekly bombings and shootings, ubiquitous roadblocks, checkpoints, mesh wires and steel gates, 30,000 police and soldiers plus 40,000 additional people employed in security for a population of just 1.5 million.“People got extremely nervous if a bag was left in a pub or on a chair,” says Johnson, who went on to be a long-serving deputy editor of the Guardian and retired in 2020. “It was quite grim. Even the pubs were shut on a Sunday. There was an overlying weight of the Troubles.”There was the dreadful night in pouring rain Johnson stood outside a bombed RUC station in Newry where nine dead officers lay entombed, and people drove past the scene shouting “up the provos”.There was the day the police attacked a republican crowd and a baton round killed Sean Downes, who was standing near Johnson.Paul Johnson in his early days at the Guardian. Photograph: The GuardianIt was not hopeless. The British and Irish governments signed the Anglo-Irish agreement, which set a precedent for the 1998 Good Friday agreement, and Sinn Féin was edging its way into what would become the peace process.Even moments of tension could flash with humour. Gerry Adams, nervous about a possible attack before addressing a crowd in west Belfast, spotted Johnson with his notebook. “He said: ‘Well, if the worst happens at least my last words will be reported in the Guardian.’”For Johnson such anecdotes are reminders that Northern Ireland, for all the friction over Brexit and continued sectarianism, has come a long way. “I’m optimistic. When you think what it was like then – targeted assassinations on both sides, the inherent violence, the number of police being killed – and you go back there now, it looks very different. The day of the car bombs has gone – hopefully.”As the Guardian’s current Ireland correspondent, it can be a challenge to convey this positive context amid anxiety, resentment and uncertainty over post-Brexit arrangements. One day it is Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and first minister, lambasting the Northern Ireland protocol. The next it is loyalist paramilitaries giving a veiled warning, or a rash of menacing graffiti and anonymous posters.Rory Carroll, the Guardian’s current Ireland correspondent, interviewing Green party general election candidate Tate Donnelly in 2020. Photograph: Johnny SavageWhen the DUP and Sinn Féin trade recriminations over the handling of Covid-19, a visit by Boris Johnson or some unresolved historical grievance, it is easy to forget the miraculous fact these former enemies share power, with smaller parties, in the Stormont executive.A dysfunctional executive, true, but one that truly represents and has the support of the people of Northern Ireland. The DUP/Sinn Féin show grabs headlines but the most striking recent political development is the growth of a non-aligned centrist middle, notably represented by the Alliance party, that is bored with orange/green battles and wants to focus on jobs, housing and healthcare.The fact I am based in Dublin, not Belfast, testifies to Northern Ireland’s progress. Without mayhem in the north it makes sense to live 100 miles south in the capital of a country with a far bigger population and economy and its own story of remarkable transformation.When Johnson visited the south in the summer of 1985 it was to report on “moving statues”, a phenomenon in which people claimed that statues of the Virgin Mary and other divine figures spontaneously moved.Ireland was in many ways a theocratic state and the hierarchy was not keen on the public hysteria, says Johnson. “The church didn’t really want anything to do with it but those working in hotdog vans and selling memorabilia had an economic interest in keeping it going.”Almost four decades later, the Catholic church is a shrivelled entity discredited by scandal and left behind by a diverse, liberal population that has voted to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion.Ireland is now a place where the Catholic church has been ‘left behind by a diverse, liberal population’. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PAHistory, however, still exerts its grip, not least the border that partitioned Ireland a century ago and bedevilled Brexit, resulting in a trade border down the Irish Sea that unionists fear could tilt them towards a united Ireland. Sinn Féin, meanwhile, is pushing for a referendum on unification. Northern Ireland is at peace but the region remains unsettled.The process of reporting on Ireland has changed utterly. Today it entails Stormont briefings, WhatsApp groups, Twitter feeds, rolling updates and filing copy from buses, trains, cafes – anywhere that has a phone signal.In Johnson’s time it meant finding a public phone, preferably before Press Association rivals. “You knew every public phone box on all the main roads in Northern Ireland. You had to race to file before PA – but only once a day.”He might scribble the first paragraph or two of an article in his notebook and dictate the rest from his notes. Sometimes the nearest phone was in a pub, obliging Johnson to broadcast his copy to a suddenly hushed bar.Sometimes the nearest phone was in a pub and it would suddenly hush as Johnson dictated his story to copytakers. “I lived in fear of a hard of hearing copytaker – you shouted the story down the phone, aware that the pub, of whatever persuasion, had gone intently, quiet and all eyes were on you.
“Please, I beg you, do not just put it in the filing cabinet,” Pat Anderson, an Alyawarre woman and prominent Indigenous leader, told the first hearing of the royal commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory. “The very survival of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory depends on this commission making a real impact here.”That was 2016. Footage of teenagers in the Don Dale detention centre – one stripped half-naked, hooded and strapped to a chair – was likened to the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister who called the inquiry, was “deeply shocked”.On the back of the national outrage, the Northern Territory reformed its practices in youth detention in 2018, promising that “never again” would young people be subject to mistreatment in detention.A year later, many of those changes were reversed and the rhetoric changed to “backing our frontline staff”. Now the Northern Territory is on the verge of passing new laws that human rights advocates say not only cancels out the work of the royal commission, but moves the needle in the opposite direction.The politics of youth justice has followed a similar trajectory in Queensland over the past few years.In 2016, the state faced claims young people were mistreated in detention – including being shackled, hooded and placed in isolation – and, in 2019, a new youth justice strategy aiming to keep children out of prisons was announced.But less than a year later, with an election approaching, the state performed an about-face and adopted a new “hard line”. Last month, Queensland introduced laws for increased police powers and a presumption against bail for children accused of some offences.For both states – where the majority of incarcerated youths are Indigenous – the oscillation from shame to ruthlessness has occurred in the space of a few years.“Care and empathy never lasts long for Aboriginal people,” says Maggie Munn, a Gunggari woman, and the Indigenous rights campaigner for Amnesty International.“People are outraged for a hot sec, then they’re back to carrying on about their issues.”Youth justice a vehicle for ‘scoring political points’The day after Queensland’s youth justice laws passed through parliament in May, the state released its annual crime report. The headline outcome was that the number of “unique youth offenders” was at its lowest level in a decade.The crackdown has been largely based on claims that about 10% young offenders represent a “hardcore” group and are responsible for about half of all youth crime. But the laws seem to be more about decreasing the volume of drumbeating on the issue than reducing the volume of actual crime.Townsville chief superintendent Craig Hanlon told the ABC last month he thought there was a perception that crime was worse than in reality.The local narrative in Townsville that (mainly Indigenous) young offenders are terrorising law-abiding (mainly white) citizens has been amplified by some politicians, police, residents and media outlets for the past decade.It is a similar story in Territory’s main centres, Darwin and Alice Springs. Local discussion has been led in recent months by a story on A Current Affair that included claims streets had been “surrendered” to young criminals and that the royal commission was to blame.It’s very easy for people to see young black kids in this country and automatically think they’re up to no goodMaggie MunnMeanwhile, statistics show the number of young offenders in the Territory decreased by 9% in 2019/20.Sophie Trevitt, a lawyer who worked with Aboriginal children in Alice Springs at the outset of the royal commission, said both the NT and Queensland announcements of recent youth justice laws came on the back of a sustained media and political campaign.“There are a few things at play but certainly what we’ve seen from successive governments is both sides of politics using youth justice as a mode of scoring political points … off how harsh they can be to young people,” Trevitt said.Trevitt said the initial response to the royal commission by the Territory’s new Labor government was “extremely positive” but that the way crime policies had shifted from extremes would have an impact on young people.“There is no doubt the constant backflipping makes the situation worse for those communities.“Even if you just think about the amount of money that goes into holding the royal commission, responding to the royal commission, devising programs that will deliver good outcomes, then refusing to fund them because the political situation has changed, spending money expanding Don Dale to lock up more children. That money has all gone to nowhere.”‘Back to the dark days’The other issue shown clearly in research is that tough approaches do not prevent crime – in fact they have the opposite effect, often creating recidivist offenders.Sally Sievers, the NT’s acting children’s commissioner, told the ABC this week that improvements in youth offending and recidivism rates always “have at their core reform measures focused on reducing the numbers of children and young people on remand”.Cheryl Axelby, the co-chair of advocacy group Change the Record, said the new laws would take the Territory “back to the dark days”.“The evidence is very clear – the younger a child comes into contact with the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to become trapped in the criminal justice cycle and go on to offend in the future,” Axelby said.“[The government] might think these law changes will be popular in the short term, but they are doomed to fail.“Denying children bail shuts down pathways out of the criminal justice system, and forces kids behind bars when they could be in the community.”In a statement this week announcing new laws would be brought to the Territory parliament on urgency, minister for families Kate Worden attempted to allay human rights concerns. She said the Labor government had inherited a broken system in 2016, and that it had established new bail support and youth outreach systems that did not exist previously“The changes we’re introducing will build on this government’s vision of a youth justice system that contributes to community safety and reduces reoffending by young people,” she said.“Our investment in community youth justice programs has meant that hundreds more young people have active case management and receive interventions that change their behaviour.”‘What these kids need is support’Statistics showing a decrease in crime rates are, of course, cold comfort for community members impacted by crime. No criminologist, human rights advocate or politician denies that existence of crime in the suburbs.But for many there is an overwhelming feeling of frustration that communities in the Northern Territory and Queensland have missed an opportunity to reshape narratives around evidence-based solutions, rather than emotional or political responses.At the height of concern about treatment of children in youth detention, discussion turned to whether punitive, harsh approach inside detention actually created subsequent problems with youth crime.Both the Queensland and Territory governments perviously acknowledged that fact. Former Queensland minister for youth Di Farmer said in 2019, before the pivot in policy: “By placing young offenders in detention, they are more likely to re-offend.”Now the language has become almost militaristic. In February, when announcing new laws that were the result of a review that lasted six days, Queensland police minister Mark Ryan said recidivist young offenders would be targeted “with all the force and resources at our disposal”.Munn said that communities were over-focused on the role of police and prisons in solving issues around crime.“Because they know nothing else, they think nothing else works,” she said.“The media and social media has a really big part to play in that. There’s a disconnect between what’s happening and what the situation is reported to be. A lot of that comes down to the way it’s framed.“A large part of that I think is racism. It’s very easy for people to see young black kids in this country and automatically think they’re up to no good.”Munn said the constant shifts in policy were also detrimental to children engaged with state systems.“When programs that have a track record of success are battling an ever-changing ground every three to four years, they have no certainty about their work. They can’t plan for expansion, they can’t plan a suitable program.“What these kids need is support … So long as the don’t have the support they need, kids are going to end up in youth detention and from there the outcome is bloody grim.”
Political unionism in Northern Ireland has been thrown into further flux after the leader of the Ulster Unionist party announced his resignation.Steve Aiken’s move comes 10 days after the Democratic Unionist party leader Arlene Foster was forced to quit after an internal heave against her.The announcement from the South Antrim MLA, who will remain as leader until a successor is chosen, was also prompted by mounting discontent within the party over his stewardship.With Aiken’s decision coming so soon after Foster’s, unionism is set for a significant realignment ahead of next year’s Assembly election.The broader unionist and loyalist community in Northern Ireland has been significantly unsettled by the emergence of Brexit’s Irish Sea border and their political representatives acknowledge the election could be pivotal for the pro-union cause.And if the political turmoil ends up destabilising the power-sharing administration in Belfast, the election could come sooner than scheduled.Aiken, a former submarine captain, was elected UUP leader unopposed in 2019. Many are tipping the Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie as a likely successor.He was viewed as a serious leadership contender back in 2019 when the last vacancy arose but he ultimately chose not to stand, leaving Aiken with a clear path to the job.In a letter to the party chair, Danny Kennedy, Aiken said he believed he had taken the party as far as he could. “To achieve our goals, we now need new leadership,” he wrote.Aiken said he would remain in politics and continue as a South Antrim MLA.Discussing his time as leader, Aiken said he took pride in the party’s decision to take on the challenging health minister portfolio when Stormont was restored in 2020.He said his party colleague and former leader Robin Swann had been successful in his efforts to tackle the pandemic.“However, despite our successes, it has become clear to me that if we are to achieve the breakthrough in the forthcoming Assembly elections, we will need to drive further ahead,” Aiken wrote.“To represent the brand of unionism that builds on hope and not fear, and provides a clear, modern alternative that will be both the future of our party and Northern Ireland, will require strong leadership.”He said unionism needed positive, hopeful and progressive leadership.“The last few months have been a momentous time for our Union and for Northern Ireland,” he wrote.“It is also a time when unionism, more than ever, needs positive, hopeful and progressive leadership; leadership which I strongly believe only the Ulster Unionist party can provide.“Our party has delivered for the people of Northern Ireland for many years and in the centenary of Northern Ireland continues to do what is right – not just for unionists, but for everyone.”In a written reply to Aiken, Kennedy said he “regretfully” acknowledged his decision to resign.“On behalf of the officers and the entire party I want to express my deep appreciation for the service you have rendered as leader and pay tribute to your unstinting efforts to promote our raison d’etre – the maintenance and preservation of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom,” he wrote.Beattie was among those paying tribute to the party leader. “The loneliness of leadership is never easy,” he tweeted. “The cruel comments are a measure of those unwilling to put their heads above the parapet.“As my party leader, my colleague and my friend I want to thank Steve for his for service past, present and in the future.”Swann tweeted: “I want to thank @SteveAikenUUP for his leadership, it is oft time both a rewarding and challenging position to hold.“But most of all I thank him for his support and the trust he placed in me when he nominated me as health minister.”
The chief of Reporters Without Borders says that jihadi rebels kidnapped French journalist Olivier Dubois on April 8 while he was working in Mali’s northern city of Gao
Northern Ireland has marked its centenary with low-key commemorations, reflecting a mixed mood of pride, resentment and post-Brexit uncertainty.The Queen and Boris Johnson led tributes to the region on its 100th birthday on Monday with carefully worded statements that praised its people while acknowledging a troubled history and polarised society.Advocates of a united Ireland made their own statement by draping a giant banner over a tower block in west Belfast urging the region to leave the UK. “A united Ireland is for everyone. Let’s talk about it,” said the banner, which had a Sinn Féin logo. It was later removed.Several band parades, church services and other small-scale events, operating under pandemic restrictions, were held across the region.Northern Ireland was created on 3 May 1921 when the Government of Ireland Act came into effect and partitioned the island, leaving its six north-eastern counties under British rule and dominated by a Protestant majority that discriminated against the Catholic minority.The Queen said the anniversary was a reminder of a complex history that invited reflection on togetherness and diversity. “In Northern Ireland today, there is, perhaps, more than ever, a rich mix of identities, backgrounds and aspirations, and an outward-looking and optimistic mindset,” said her statement.“The political progress in Northern Ireland and the peace process is rightly credited to a generation of leaders who had the vision and courage to put reconciliation before division. But above all, the continued peace is a credit to its people, upon whose shoulders the future rests.”The prime minister said centenary events in the coming months would exhibit the region’s accomplishments. “The government will continue to showcase all the brilliant things Northern Ireland contributes to the rest of the UK and the world, from its world-class fintech industry and research capabilities to its inspiring young people and its vibrant culture of arts and sport.”Johnson’s statement added: “It is also important that we pause to reflect on the complex history of the last 100 years. People from all parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and across the globe will approach this anniversary in different ways, with differing perspectives.”Gerry Adams, the former Sinn Féin leader, published an essay recalling violence against Catholics in the early years of Northern Ireland, calling it a “pogrom” that launched decades of state-sanctioned violence against nationalists and Catholics. Adams also tweeted what has become a Sinn Féin rallying cry: “Time4unity.”The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, said Northern Ireland had reached a fork in the road. “It’s time we had a meaningful conversation about where we go next.”Ireland’s president, Michael D Higgins, said that instead of calling for a united Ireland it was better to call for a united vision against violence and “false differences”.The UK government has set aside £3m for centenary events in the coming months, including tree-planting, an online concert, a business conference, a postmark and a church service.Efforts to forge a united political front to mark the anniversary foundered. Sinn Féin and the SDLP boycotted a panel coordinating the commemorations. Sinn Féin also blocked the erection of a stone in the shape of Northern Ireland at the Stormont assembly.Unionists have expressed pride in Northern Ireland’s contribution to the UK, singling out arts, culture, sport and industry, but political developments along with Covid-19 dampened any festive spirit.Unionist leaders fear the post-Brexit Irish Sea trade border will untether the region from the UK just as Catholics seem poised to outnumber Protestants for the first time. A party revolt last week toppled Arlene Foster, the Democratic Unionist party leader and first minister. The possibility of Scotland seceding from the union has also fuelled anxiety and focused attention on this week’s Scottish election.
The Chinese company that operates the Port of Darwin has vowed to cooperate with the Morrison government’s review into any security risks from its long-term lease – but insists it struck the deal “in good faith”.The defence minister, Peter Dutton, confirmed on Monday that his department was reviewing the 2015 agreement between the Northern Territory’s then-Country Liberal party (CLP) government and the Landbridge Group.The review comes after Scott Morrison said last week he would take seriously any new advice from defence and security agencies.The federal opposition accused the Coalition government of dragging its feet, saying it was only now acting after “six years of warnings”, while the Liberal MP Andrew Wallace told Sky News the original deal was “absolute madness”.In response to questions from Guardian Australia, the vice-president of Landbridge in Australia, Mike Hughes, said the company had “acquired the lease to Darwin Port in good faith following a transparent process in 2015”.Hughes said the company’s involvement had been reviewed at the time by both the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Department of Defence and had been subject to a Senate inquiry.“We are aware of reports of a new review to be conducted by the Department of Defence and are willing to participate in this review as required,” he said in a brief statement.The company did not comment on the issue of compensation if the federal government intervened to tear up the 2015 deal, which was worth $506m.Its holding company, Landbridge Group, is headquartered in China’s Shandong province. The group’s chair, Ye Cheng, is currently estimated to be worth $US1.5bn, according to Forbes.The NT chief minister, Michael Gunner, who was not in power at the time of the deal, said he was “very happy for the Australian government to look at anything they want to in relation to the 2015 sale” by the CLP.“I don’t believe the CLP, as the government of the day, have ever apologised to Territorians, or Australians, for the decision to sell the Port to foreign owners,” the Labor chief minister said on Monday.Gunner said the NT government still had not received any formal advice that the government was looking at the matter, “but if they decide to, we are more than happy to work with them”.Gunner had criticised the deal by the then NT chief minister, Adam Giles, at the time, but promised to honour the agreement if elected. Gunner has since shown no interest in the NT funding the unwinding of the deal.Last year Gunner indicated that if the federal government were able to find $500m for the NT, it would be better off spending the money on creating jobs.On Monday the federal Labor party said it had long raised concerns about the Port of Darwin, which it described as a “critical strategic asset for Australia”, being under “effective foreign ownership”.The party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, and her defence colleague, Brendan O’Connor, said the Coalition had voted last year against an amendment to the government’s foreign veto laws that would have ensured the Port of Darwin deal could be reviewed.“Now that it is becoming a political problem, Mr Morrison is engaging in more of his usual political management – after failing to show leadership for six years,” Wong and O’Connor said.“Australia needs leaders who will act strategically in the national interest – not someone who’s only interested in political management.”Wong and O’Connor said the Port of Darwin was used by the defence forces of visiting allies and partners in addition to the ADF, “so we would expect that Defence is also seeking their views as part of this review”.The original deal prompted diplomatic ripples with the US, with Barack Obama raising it during a meeting with Malcolm Turnbull in Manila in late 2015.The US – which rotates Marines through the NT – was unhappy it was not kept in the loop, but Turnbull suggested that US officials “should invest in a subscription to the Northern Territory News because it was not a secret”.At the time, Turnbull also said the NT government had consulted the defence department, which did not not raise any concerns.But the legislation at the time did not require the proposal to go through Firb – an issue Morrison as treasurer reviewed, prompting amendments to the law for future deals.During a visit to the Northern Territory last week to announce an upgrade of defence training sites, Morrison hinted the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin could be reconsidered on security grounds.He said he would heed any advice from the defence department or security agencies “about the national security implications of any piece of critical infrastructure”.In an interview with Nine newspapers, published on Monday, Dutton said the Morrison-chaired national security committee of cabinet had asked the defence department to “come back with some advice, so that work is already under way”.When asked about forced divestment, Dutton reportedly replied the government needed to wait for the advice and “we can look at options that are in our national interests after that”.Dutton – a conservative who has been making waves since being appointed defence minister a month ago – and the government are increasingly adopting tougher rhetoric on China.But the idea of rethinking the Port of Darwin lease has gained support from across the political divide.In March, a committee chaired by Liberal National party backbencher George Christensen called on the Morrison government to consider bringing the Port of Darwin back under Australian control.Christensen emailed his supporters on Sunday to declare “an incredible opportunity to have the Australian government take back the Port of Darwin and other key infrastructure from the clutches of Communist China”.Comment has been sought from the Chinese embassy. Last week the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, cited “increasing discriminatory restrictions imposed over investment from Chinese enterprises” as an example of “negative moves by the Australian side that has poisoned the atmosphere”.
One hundred years to the day after its foundation on 3 May 1921 Northern Ireland, on paper at least, is outdoing the rest of the United Kingdom on many metrics.The UK’s smallest country has seen the lowest unemployment rate on the British Isles for six consecutive quarters, reaching a record low in late 2019; pre-Covid tourism was booming ; and it has the highest levels of wellbeing in the OECD.It is the only region of the UK where the proportion of people in persistent low income (after housing costs) is below 10% of the population while the absolute number of children living in poverty has fallen in the past five years, in contrast with the UK-wide figure.However, Northern Ireland has most recently made the headlines for what many had hoped were the long-gone reasons.The riots that broke out in the capital Belfast in late March and early April were variously attributed to unionist discontent with Brexit (specifically the Northern Irish protocol) and the decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for alleged breaches of Covid-19 rules at the funeral of a former IRA member.But there were also those who warned that part of the violence was borne out of a frustration that working class areas of Northern Ireland have been left behind.EducationOn the face of it Northern Ireland ranks mid table when compared with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland in terms of NEETs – those not in employment, education or training.However, take a microscope to the region and the cracks in the country’s education system begin to appear. A 2016 report into gaps in education attainment in the region found that the gap in the lowest and highest skilled was higher than any OECD country.Either side of the Shankill Road/Springfield Road peace wall in west Belfast educational achievement remains low: around two thirds of pupils living in one part of the Falls Road did not attain five GCSEs or an equivalent qualification, rising to 70% in part of the Shankill according to the region’s last deprivation report.Of the province’s 50 worst areas in terms of educational deprivation, 37 are in Belfast with NEETs running between 10% and 17% among late teens in some parts of the city.The problem – which is most acute among working class boys – is not a new one. And this attainment gap is felt more keenly in unionist communities. A 2018 report by the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report echoed two decades of findings when it stated “Protestant boys continue to have lower educational attainment than Catholic boys”.Feeding into this division is continued segregation in Northern Ireland’s education system: controlled (predominantly Protestant), Catholic maintained and integrated schools. A report published earlier this year found that “balancing the demands of these denominational, cultural and national vested interests” had created a “divided, splintered and consequently overly expensive” school system.Richard Johnston of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre says: “Other countries are overtaking Northern Ireland in terms of educational outcomes and spending less on a per capita or per pupil basis and therefore [it] must examine the efficiency of the current education system”.Child povertyWhile child poverty levels in Northern Ireland as a whole are on par with the wider UK, the proportion of children living in low income families remains high in parts of the region.Eight of the nation’s 18 parliamentary constituencies rank in the bottom third of the wider UK according to recently published government figures.At least one-in-five children living in those areas were in relative poverty in 2019 rising to more than a quarter (26%) in Belfast West – home to the Lanark Way and Springfield Road interface where some of the recent violence broke out – as well as the Belfast North and Foyle constituencies.Indicative ward-level data being prepared by the House of Commons Library shows that more than a third of children in some parts of the country are in poverty.The chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby, said child poverty was a severe problem in Northern Ireland where families are bigger on average meaning that the limit on universal credit to two children is acutely felt.“Six years ago the high court ruled that the NI Executive’s failure to adopt an anti-poverty strategy was unlawful, yet six years on this has not been remedied. The lack of a future for some young people means they remain fertile ground for recruitment by loyalist and dissident republican paramilitaries,” he said.EmploymentIt may be counterintuitive to some but while Northern Ireland has the lowest unemployment rate in the UK, it also has the lowest or second-lowest employment rate for the past four quarters (in quarter 4 2020 it stood at 69.4% in Northern Ireland compared with 75.1% in the rest of the UK).The region has relatively low levels of capital investment and innovation; limited amounts of home-grown startups; higher levels of public sector employment and a less well qualified workforce than neighbouring countries. Combined, these factors lead to lower competitiveness and employment.Another is that Northern Ireland has persistently had the highest rate of economically inactive people – a group that encompasses homemakers, full-time carers, the long-term sick or disabled, students and retirees – in the UK.“Prior to the Covid crisis, Northern Ireland set a number of economic records – employment, output, unemployment, export and more. However, whilst the region’s performance appeared strong when considered against its own historical context, it remains weaker than competitor nations and regions across the UK, Ireland and Europe,” Johnston says.Additional reporting by Sam Cutler
Arlene Foster resigns as DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister – Phil Noble/ReutersArlene Foster has quit as leader of the DUP and First Minister of Northern Ireland in the face of mounting discontent among her party.She said she will leave her DUP role on May 28 and resign as First Minister at the end of June.The announcement comes 24 hours after an sizeable internal heave against her by DUP politicians unhappy with her leadership.The 50-year-old Fermanagh and South Tyrone representative indicated her resignation will mark the end of her political career, as she said she was preparing to “depart the political stage”.”It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone,” she said.Mrs Foster had faced a revolt against her leadership over the handling of Brexit and a decision to abstain in a vote on gay conversion therapy.She will step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on May 28 and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.In a statement, Arlene Foster said: “It is important to give space over the next few weeks for the party officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader. When elected, I will work with the new leader on transition arrangements.””It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone,” she said.”I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last eighteen years has been memorable. There are many people who have helped and supported me throughout that period and I will always be grateful for the kindness and support shown to me by them.”Whilst there have been many difficult and testing times for the executive it remains my firm view that Northern Ireland has been better served having local ministers at this time. It is unthinkable that we could have faced into the coronavirus pandemic without our own devolved ministers in place and no ministerial direction for departments.”Story continuesIn her resignation speech, Mrs Foster hit out at “misogynistic criticisms” and “online lynch mobs.She said: “My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office.”I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.”I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs get you down.”Mrs Foster said she entered politics to speak up for the voiceless and build a Northern Ireland that could prosper and be at peace within the United Kingdom.”I am the first to recognise there have been ups and downs over the last five and a half years,” she said.Mrs Foster added: “To the hundreds of Party supporters who have been in touch over the last few days, I say a sincere thank you for the opportunities to serve you and the support you have given me. For almost five-and-a-half years I have been incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to lead the Democratic Unionist Party.”I have sought to lead the Party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path.”There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging. We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country.”The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home.”Arlene Foster’s statement, in full”A short time ago I called the Party Chairman to inform him that I intend to step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on the twenty-eighth of May and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.”It is important to give space over the next few weeks for the Party Officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader. When elected I will work with the new leader on transition arrangements.”As First Minister it is important that I complete work on a number of important issues for Northern Ireland alongside other Executive colleagues. Northern Ireland and its people have been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and there remains more work to be done to steer us thorough the pandemic and to lessen its impact on the lives of everyone.”It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone. I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last eighteen years has been memorable. There are many people who have helped and supported me throughout that period and I will always been grateful for the kindness and support shown to me by them.”Whilst there have been many difficult and testing times for the Executive it remains my firm view that Northern Ireland has been better served having local Ministers at this time. It is unthinkable that we could have faced into the Coronavirus pandemic without our own devolved Ministers in place and no Ministerial direction for Departments.”As I prepare to depart the political stage it is my view that if Northern Ireland is to prosper then it will only do so built on the foundations of successful and durable devolution. That will require continued hard work and real determination and courage on all sides.”Whilst the focus is on me today I recognise that will pass. For me my decision to enter politics was never about party or person, it was about speaking up for the voiceless and building a Northern Ireland which could prosper and be at peace within the United Kingdom.”I am the first to recognise there have been ups and downs over the last five and a half years.”The 2016 Assembly election result and our Party’s best ever Westminster result in 2017 stand out amongst the high points when the electorate sent a clear message that they wanted to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.”The Confidence and Supply Agreement was able to bring one billion pounds of extra spending for everyone in Northern Ireland. Our priorities were not narrow but based on more investment in mental health and hospitals, bringing broadband to rural communities, improving our roads and ensuring funding to encourage more shared housing and education.”For our innocent victims, I am proud we battled together and whilst too late for some, we finally secured a truly deserved pension for you.”For our armed forces, the Veterans’ Commissioner is in place. You have an advocate to stand up for you and ensure your voice is heard at the heart of government.”Of course as with highs there were lows along the way.”The three years without devolution caused untold harm to our public services and the RHI Inquiry was a difficult period. The Protocol being foisted upon Northern Ireland against the will of unionists has served to destabilise Northern Ireland in more recent times.”Whilst there is still a job of work to do, I am proud that there is a young generation of Democratic Unionists getting involved in politics and trying to shape Northern Ireland for the better.”Over the last twelve months, I have been holding online meetings every week with young people mainly from working class communities and encouraging them especially the young women to get involved.”I echo that encouragement today. Politics and debate is the only path to effect change in society. You will and can be the MPs, MLAs and Councillors of tomorrow.”My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office.”I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.”I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch mobs get you down.”To the hundreds of Party supporters who have been in touch over the last few days, I say a sincere thank you for the opportunities to serve you and the support you have given me. For almost five and a half years I have been incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to lead the Democratic Unionist Party.”I have sought to lead the Party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path.”There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging. We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country.”The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home.”Reaction to Foster quitting as leaderNorthern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis led the tributes to Arlene Foster on Wednesday afternoon.He said: “Arlene is a truly dedicated public servant, devoting her political career to her constituents for over 18 years and the people of Northern Ireland as First Minister for several years.”There are many young people, particularly young women, who will be inspired by her example to follow a path into politics.”I wish her all the best and look forward to continuing to work with her in the days and weeks ahead, delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland.”DUP MP Gavin Robinson tweeted: “There will be more to say about lies ahead in the days to come, but for now, I want to thank Arlene personally for her dedicated service to Northern Ireland.”She has been a constant source of encouragement to me and my colleagues throughout the province. Facing difficulties with courage and determination; and sacrificing so much over all of us over her 18 years in elected politics, I pay tribute to her, her leadership and her commitment to our Country.”
Bassano, in the province of Vicenza, lies some 65 kilometres north-east of Venice. (File)Rome, Italy: Authorities in northern Italy announced Monday they had identified two cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus, in a father and daughter recently returned from India.The news follows reports of another case in the central region of Tuscany last month, and comes after the Italian government banned arrivals from the virus-hit country.”Today in (the city of) Bassano we have the first two patients, two Indians,” announced Luca Zaia, head of the Veneto region.Bassano, in the province of Vicenza, lies some 65 kilometres (40 miles) north-east of Venice.The two patients were identified as a father and adult daughter of Indian origin who recently returned from a trip to India. They are currently isolating at home.Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Sunday announced a new ban on anyone entering Italy who has been in India in the past 14 days.India is battling a catastrophic, record-breaking outbreak that has overwhelmed hospitals and set crematoriums working at full capacity.(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)