N.Ireland’s Sinn Fein hands reins to new generation

Sinn Fein's Health Minister and newly appointment party Leader in Stormont, Michelle O'Neill arrives to give a press conference in Belfast. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2017

N.Ireland’s Sinn Fein hands reins to new generation

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: Sinn Fein signalled a shift to a new, post-conflict generation in Northern Ireland on Monday when the Irish republican party named a 40-year-old woman to replace a former IRA commander as its leader in Belfast.
Michelle O’Neill will be a candidate to replace Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister after elections on March 2, following his decision to quit politics for health reasons.
At a press conference in Belfast, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described O’Neill as the “new generation” who would “continue the good work Martin pioneered.”
O’Neill, a member of the Northern Ireland assembly for the past 10 years, developed her political career in the aftermath of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
The deal effectively ended the armed campaign by the paramilitary Irish Republican Army — in which McGuinness served — to unite Ireland by force.
Yet O’Neill, a mother of two grown-up children originally from Clonoe in rural County Tyrone, also has a strong Irish nationalist background.
Her father Basil served a prison sentence for IRA activities and her cousin Tony Doris, an IRA combatant, was killed by the British army in an ambush in 1991.
In a video statement, O’Neil expressed her “immense pride” at her nomination and paid tribute to her father and cousin, citing the influence they had on her and on her wider community.
She also offered an olive branch of sorts to the unionist community, which wants Northern Ireland to remain a British province.
“The united Ireland we want and which we envisage has a place for everybody,” she said.
“I see it as my job as leader to make sure we are reaching out to all sections of the community.... Nobody has anything to fear.”
During the three-decade-long conflict known as “the Troubles,” in which 3,500 people died, Sinn Fein was regarded as the political wing of the IRA.
It has had an fractious relationship with unionists in the power-sharing assembly set up as part of the peace agreement.
McGuinness played a key role in the peace process and served for a decade alongside first ministers from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
But he fell out with its latest leader, Arlene Foster, and resigned earlier this month, triggering new elections.
The DUP responded to Sinn Fein’s announcement by posting a tweet picturing McGuinness with O’Neill in his pocket, with the words: “New Deputy. Same Problem.”


Having flu doubles risk of coronavirus death: Study

Updated 36 min 11 sec ago

Having flu doubles risk of coronavirus death: Study

  • Heightened danger particularly acute among over-65s
  • WHO identifies flu season as acute threat given COVID-19 spikes

LONDON: Infection with flu and coronavirus at the same time more than doubles a person’s risk of dying than if he or she only had COVID-19, according to research released by England’s highest public health body.

Research conducted by Public Health England (PHE) found that those with flu and COVID-19 were 2.27 times more likely to die than those who just had COVID-19, and 5.92 times more likely to die than those who had neither.

Researchers found that those aged 65 and over were at greatest risk. Most cases of co-infection were in older people, and more than half of them died.

The paper describes the possible impact of COVID-19 alongside seasonal flu as a “major concern.”

Yvonne Doyle, medical director of PHE, said: “If you get both you’re in some serious trouble, and the people who are most likely to get both of these infections may be the very people who can least afford to in terms of their own immune system, or their risk for serious outcomes.”

The paper found that people with flu were less likely to test positive for COVID-19, but Doyle said this should not be taken as a reassurance.

Some countries in Asia have pre-emptively rolled out early and more aggressive flu vaccination programs this year to prevent complications caused by co-infection.

But others, such as Poland, have been struggling to secure flu vaccines due to shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The upcoming flu season has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a particularly acute threat, given that many parts of the world are already experiencing a spike in COVID-19 infections.

“We’re starting to see worrying trends in some countries,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for COVID-19. “We’re seeing increases in hospitalizations, in intensive care units … That’s worrying because we haven’t seen the flu season yet.”