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Ireland

Gardaí appeal for witnesses after gun fired in Co Clare

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Gardaí are appealing for witnesses after a gun was fired in Co Clare this morning.

Officers are investigating after receiving a report alleging that a firearm had been discharged at around 11am in the Illaunamanagh area of Shannon.

No injuries or damage to property was reported following the incident.

Gardaí later carried out a search of the area, which resulted in the seizure of a suspected firearm that will now be sent for examination.

No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

Officers are appealing for anyone who was in the area between 10.30am and 11.30am, particularly road users with camera footage, to contact them.

Gardaí can be contacted at the Shannon Garda Station on 061-365900, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800-666-111 or at any Garda Station.

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Ireland

54 deaths and 1,335 new cases of Covid-19

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A further 54 deaths and an additional 1,335 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed this evening by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

They said that 50 of the deaths occurred in January and the median age of those who died was 85 years and the age range was 55-96 years.

With 54 deaths this evening, it means there has been a total of 3,120 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.

There is also now a total of 191,182 confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland.

Nphet said that of the cases notified today: 618 are men and 711 are women, 54 per cent are under 45 years of age and the median age is 43 years old.

Regarding the location of tonight’s cases: 437 are in Dublin, 114 in Cork, 78 in Galway, 71 in Meath, 61 in Louth and the remaining 574 cases are spread across all other counties.

They said as of 2pm today, 1,670 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised and 217 are in ICU. 81 additional hospitalisations have taken place in the past 24 hours.

Speaking this evening, Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said: “The current 14 day incidence remains more than double the peak incidence experienced during previous Level 5 measures in October, therefore, now is not the time to drop your guard and start to interact with people outside your household.

“The risk of transmission in the community remains very high. We must continue to work towards reducing incidence of disease and preventing further hospitalisations and deaths.”


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Ireland

Court challenges over closure of schools for children with special needs

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High Court challenges have been initiated against the Government’s decision not to reopen schools for pupils with special education needs.

Five test judicial review actions against the decision earlier this month not to reopen the schools were mentioned before Mr Justice Charles Meenan at the High Court today.

In their actions the children seek various orders including an injunction compelling the Minister for Education and the State to reopen the schools to those with intellectual disabilities.

The judge adjourned proceedings to Monday’s sitting of the court after he directed that the applications for leave to bring the challenges be made in the presence of lawyers for the State.

Covid-19 restrictions

Each of the actions have been brought on behalf of five school-going children with special needs who are suing through their parents and who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The cases arise after the Minister said on January 19th last that the schools would not re-open during the current Covid 19 restrictions due to a lack of cooperation from key staff trade unions.

The say that prior to the announcement, the respondents believed that it was appropriate that the schools should have re-opened as planned on January 21st last.

Mental and physical well-being

The parents fear for their children’s mental and physical well-being and say that the schools should be reopened by Government.

The parents also claim that the National Public Health Emergency Team as well as the Government deem schools safe to re-open.

In their actions the children’s parents claim the respondents have failed in their duties towards the children, who have various conditions including Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The court heard that some of the children involved have severely regressed in basic skills due to the school closures and the lack of supports they would normally get as part of their education.

Provide education

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In their separate actions the applicants seek an order compelling the Minister and the State to provide the children with an adequate and appropriate education, on the basis that the respondents have an obligation under the 1988 Education Act, and Article 42 of the Constitution.

They also seek a declaration that the respondents have failed in their duty to provide for an adequate education for the children under the 1998 Act and Article 42.

They also seek injunctions aimed at compelling the State to provide the children with appropriate and adequate education.

Mr Justice Meenan, who noted that the injunctions sought are mandatory in nature, adjourned the case to next Monday.

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North’s health service to give £500 recognition payment to all staff

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A special recognition payment of £500 (€565) has been announced for Northern Ireland’s health staff.

Stormont’s Health Minister Robin Swann said it will be paid to all health and social care workers including doctors, nurses, care home workers, domiciliary care workers, administrative staff and estates teams.

The payment is subject to approval by the North’s Department of Finance.

Mr Swann also announced a one-off recognition payment of £2,000 for students who have been on clinical placement between October 1st, 2020 and March 31st, 2021.

The qualifying courses include nursing and midwifery, social work and physician associate pre-registration programmes commissioned from Queen’s University Belfast and the Ulster University by Stormont’s health department.

Mr Swann said that thanking the health workers for their work through the pandemic was not enough.

“There are no words to properly convey what they have done for us – we will never be able to repay that debt,” he said.

The minister added that he recognised the payment may pose challenges for some of the lower-paid workers, in terms of potentially having an adverse impact on their social security payments.

“So this afternoon I have written to the ministers of finance and communities asking them to urgently consider the issue and to engage with the tax and benefit authorities in GB to request that these payments are excluded from consideration in this regard,” he said.

“And whilst the UK nations are still negotiating a new pay deal for NHS Agenda for Change staff this payment will have no bearing on that.”

A one-off award is also set to be made to carers but Mr Swann said more work is to be done on this before further detail can be announced.

Vaccines

Meanwhile, Dr Patricia Donnelly, the head of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, announced an acceleration of the rollout.

The region received a further delivery of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday, and another delivery is expected next week.

Dr Donnelly said those will cover the 75-plus age group and start provision to the over-70 population.

She said Thursday will see the start of a “twin-track approach”, as the seven regional vaccination centres start receiving members of the public.

GPs will focus on the 70-and-over age group, while the vaccination centres will offer appointments to 65-to-69-year-olds.

So far, 191,050 doses of Covid vaccinations have been administered.

This includes 168,140 first doses and 22,910 second doses.

Earlier First Minister Arlene Foster said she would rather see people vaccinated than doses potentially wasted.

Ms Foster was speaking following reports of a leaked email which appeared to offer some staff in the South Eastern Health Trust the opportunity to register family members for early access to the jab.

The email indicated that over-65s, known to staff, could book in at its vaccine centre before the official announcement.

The trust said it started a local trawl in advance of the online public booking system going live to fill slots and ensure they would not “lose hundreds of precious vaccine slots”.

Mrs Foster said: “The vaccination centres are using the Pfizer vaccine, and it is very restrictive in how and when it can be used. It has to be kept at very cold temperatures and then used quite quickly.

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine needs to be stored at very low temperatures. Photo: PA

“As I understand it from looking into this, this is to deal with the very first appointment because we do not want to risk losing this vaccine.

“We are very proud of the fact that our wastage in terms of vaccination is about 0.4 per cent, I think that is very, very good and I’d much rather see people vaccinated than waste the vaccine.”

The First Minister told the BBC: “I think wasting the vaccine would be absolutely the wrong message to send to people.”

The Stormont Executive is set to meet on Thursday with Education Minister Peter Weir expected to bring a paper around school closures.

Schools in the North have been closed since stopping for the Christmas break due to a fresh raft of lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

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It was announced on Wednesday that a further 16 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the toll in Northern Ireland to 1,779.

The Department of Health also confirmed another 527 positive cases of the virus.

There are now 775 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, including 68 in intensive care.

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