Irish government on verge of collapse ahead of EU Brexit summit

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar forged a three-year “confidence and supply” agreement with other parties that allowed Varadkar’s Fine Gael to form a minority government 18 months ago. (Reuters)
Updated 24 November 2017
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Irish government on verge of collapse ahead of EU Brexit summit

DUBLIN: The Irish government was on the verge of collapse on Thursday after the party whose votes Prime Minister Leo Varadkar depends on to pass legislation said it would seek to remove the deputy prime minister in a breach of their cooperation agreement.
The crisis comes three weeks ahead of a EU summit in which the Irish government has an effective veto on whether Britain’s talks on leaving the bloc progress as it determines if EU concerns about the future of the Irish border have been met.
In a row that escalated rapidly, the opposition Fianna Fail party said it would put a motion of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald before parliament on Tuesday over her handling of a legal case involving a police whistleblower.
That would break the three-year “confidence and supply” agreement that allowed Varadkar’s Fine Gael party to form a minority government 18 months ago.
Fianna Fail initially indicated it might withdraw its threat if Fitzgerald resigned but Fine Gael members of parliament passed a unanimous motion of support in Fitzgerald at an emergency meeting on Thursday evening.
Asked after Fine Gael’s statement whether the country was headed for an election, a senior Fianna Fail source replied: “Straight toward one.”
The source declined to be named as the party’s frontbench was due to hold an emergency meeting early on Friday to decide its next move.
“This is ... dangerous politically at a time when the country does not need an election,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney of Fine Gael told national Irish broadcaster RTE, in an apparent reference to the Brexit talks he had earlier described as a “historic moment” for the island of Ireland.
The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will be the UK’s only land frontier with the bloc after its departure, is one of three issues Brussels wants broadly solved before it decides next month on whether to move the talks onto a second phase about trade, as Britain wants.
Coveney told parliament on Thursday that the government was not yet ready to allow the talks to move on to the trade issues at the Dec. 14-15 summit and needed more clarity from London.
A breakdown of the government’s cooperation deal, which has worked relatively smoothly up until now between two parties that differ little on policy but have been bitter foes for decades, would likely lead to an election in December or January.
The Fianna Fail move comes after Fitzgerald admitted she was made aware of an attempt to discredit a police whistleblower in a 2015 email, but failed to act. Fine Gael say she adhered to due process.
Since Varadkar’s appointment as Fine Gael leader in May, his party has narrowly led Fianna Fail in opinion polls that suggest both parties would increase their support but still struggle to form anything but another minority government.


Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

Updated 1 min 15 sec ago
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Thai child fighting culture sparks debate after 13-year-old’s death

  • Centuries-old Muay Thai is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride
  • New research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries

BANGKOK: Thousands of child boxers compete in Thailand’s traditional martial art with dreams of belts, glory and prize money — but the death of a 13-year-old has lit up a sensitive debate over whether competitors start too young.
Centuries-old Muay Thai — known as the art of eight limbs for the different ways opponents can strike each other with knees, fists, kicks, and elbows — is the country’s de facto national sport and remains a source of immense pride.
But new research within Thailand suggests that the earlier Muay Thai boxers begin, the more prone they are to a range of injuries.
Lawmakers under the country’s military leaders have also drafted revamped legislation that would bar children under 12 from competing in the contact sport.
The push has gathered new momentum in light of the death of 13-year-old Anucha Tasako, who died from a brain hemorrhage after his similarly aged opponent struck him with multiple blows to the head at a Saturday charity fight near Bangkok.
Anger erupted on social media where footage of the critical moments of the bout was uploaded.
Deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan instructed the sports ministry to review the legislation, which also requires parental consent for those between 12 and 15 and “physical safety measures.”
“The competitions must have appropriate, protective gear from the arena manager,” Prawit said according to a spokesperson.
It is common for Muay Thai fighters to start young and Anucha embarked on his career when he was eight years old.
He grew up in the northeastern province of Kalasin and after his parents parted ways, he spent time with a relative who had a Muay Thai gym.
Gripped by the sport, Anucha moved to Bangkok to stay with an uncle and train.
By the time he got to the charity match in Samut Prakan on Saturday he had fought 170 times, according to local media reports.
Critics point to alleged child exploitation as gamblers bet on bouts or promoters shave off prize money.
But it is the unseen health consequences that have received the most attention.
A five-year study from 2012 by the Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Center at Ramathibodi Hospital carried out MRI scans on the brains of 335 child boxers and compared them with 252 non-boxers of the same ages.
Hospital director Adisak Plitponkarnpim said it was “clear” that child boxers suffered more brain cell damage and ruptures, and also had lower IQs.
“Their young age increases the damage because their skull and muscles are not yet fully developed.”
He said that accumulative injuries could put them at higher risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as adults.
Coaches, gym owners and older fighters have mixed feelings about the draft legislation.
Thailand’s champions who have climbed out of Muay Thai and into success in western boxing circles also honed their skills as youngsters.
Wanheng Menayothin, the WBC minimumweight champion who surpassed Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 record this year, moved to Bangkok at age 12 to train.
Tawee Umpornmaha also started fighting at 12 and went on to win a 1985 Olympic silver medal.
Some also feel the discussion around Muay Thai unfairly stigmatizes a sport that is easier to access for the South East Asian nation’s impoverished youth than more expensive sports such golf or tennis.
“For a lot of children, Muay Thai is a path out of poverty,” said a Muay Thai gym owner who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Besides giving children a sense of purpose, the owner said it also offers them “the chance to dream of a future far beyond the sport.”
The tensions are embodied in Anucha’s coach, Somsak Deerujijaroen, who runs a gym and trains his son.
“If the laws fully prevent child boxing, Thailand will not have Muay Thai masters. It will be the end of it. We will pass on the championships to foreigners,” he said at the funeral for Anucha, adding that rules on protective headgear for youth made more sense.
But he feels conflicted after the incident on Saturday and blames himself.
“I don’t want do the boxing gym anymore,” Somsak said, standing near Anucha’s coffin, where the young boxer’s favorite black-and-red boxing shorts were slung over a chair.
“One of my own kids who is eight years old has also been trained. But after this, I don’t want him to do it anymore.”