The week’s news: Attacks in Syria, Pepsi and property prices

Who had a good or bad week? What were the big stories? Who said what?

 

GOOD WEEK

Angela Kerins

The former Rehab boss may have lost her landmark legal case against the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee over its handling of her testimony, but this week she at least won a judgment meaning she won’t have to foot the bulk of her legal fees arising from the case.

Barry Manilow

The crooner finally opened up about being gay this week, at the age of 73, after hiding his relationship with his husband for nearly four decades, before they married in 2014

BAD WEEK

Pepsi

The sugary beverage firm made a spectacular contribution to the annals of truly awful ads with its latest effort, featuring model Kendall Jenner spontaneously joining a rather upbeat, Black Lives Matter-style protest, then somehow avoiding getting pepper-sprayed when she hands a can to a police officer

Steve Bannon

Donald Trump’s far-right svengali thrives by projecting an aura of menacing control, but that sense of supreme authority was rather undermined when the Donald swiftly removed him from the key national security council committee, marking a major loss in the White House game of thrones.

GRAPHIC OF THE WEEK: PROPERTY PRICES

GIVE ME A CRASH COURSE IN... SYRIA

What happened

At least 70 people, including 20 children, were killed on Tuesday in a chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, in north-western Syria. Video uploaded to social media showed civilians sprawled on the ground, foaming at the mouth, some in convulsions, others lifeless, as rescue workers hosed down the bodies of small children, trying to wash away chemicals. Médecins Sans Frontières and the World Health Organization said the symptoms seen were consistent with exposure to a nerve agent.

Who carried out the attack?

Activists and witnesses say warplanes attacked Khan Sheikhoun early on Tuesday, when many residents were asleep. The opposition and western powers believe Syrian government planes dropped the chemical weapon. The Syrian military denied using any chemical agents, while its ally Russia gave an explanation that would protect Syrian president Bashar al-Assad: that an air strike hit a rebel depot full of chemical weapons. This was dismissed by the US, France, the UK and opposition groups.

Is this a first?

No. In 2013, up to 1,400 people are thought to have died in a suspected sarin gas strike in a Damascus suburb, the largest such incident since the 1988 Halabja attack in Iraq. At that time, Washington said Assad had crossed a “red line” set by then-President Obama. Obama threatened an air campaign to topple Assad but called it off at the last minute when the Syrian leader agreed to give up his chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by Moscow.

Why would Assad do this now?

Russian intervention on his side swung the war in Assad’s favour. In recent months his forces have retaken Aleppo and other rebel-held areas. In recent weeks, however, rebels have launched bold offensives in Damascus and north of Hama. Assad may have felt emboldened by his battlefield supremacy, support from Russia and Trump’s position – until this week – of distancing himself from calls for his removal.

How has Washington reacted?

Trump described the attack as “horrible” and “unspeakable.” He criticised Obama for failing to carry through on his “red line” threat and indicated that his view on Assad’s future had changed. Then, on Thursday evening, Trump ordered a limited, apparently once-off strike on Shayrat airfield in western Syria, from where the chemical attack is believed to have been launched. In the early hours of Friday morning, 59 cruise missiles struck the airfield, killing seven people and destroying Syrian aircraft. It was the first direct US military action against Assad since the war began six years ago.

So what will happen now?

It depends on how Assad and Russia respond. If the Syrian regime launches further chemical attacks, that could well prompt a dramatic escalation from the Americans, increasing the risk of a military confrontation between the US and Moscow. Russia denounced the US strikes, but its response will depend on whether it knew Assad’s chemical attack was happening. Moscow was supposed to ensure Assad had no chemical weapons left – as US secretary of state Rex Tillerson put it, “either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been incompetent.” If it was the former, Putin could opt to escalate. But if Assad acted without Russian knowledge, it could lead to a withdrawal of some Russian support for the regime. Either way, the events of the past week complicate diplomatic moves to end the war. In recent months, western powers had been quietly dropping their demand that Assad leave power in any deal to end the war – it now looks impossible for the international community to sign off on a peace deal that does not remove the Syrian president. – Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

SOUNDBITES

It has been an amazing journey and one that I never wanted to end, however, I feel that this is the right time for me step away from inter-county football.

Colm Cooper calls time on his Kerry career

I think the stance they have taken is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know what they are thinking about frankly. Easter’s very important.

Theresa May criticises the UK National Trust for renaming its Easter Egg Trail as the Great British Egg Hunt

We see that, unfortunately, the situation is not getting better and the clearest confirmation of that is the recent tragic incident in St Petersburg.

Vladimir Putin on the terrorism threat after a bomb on the St Petersburg metro

The women’s international team is not being treated as a second-class citizen, but a fifth-class citizen. They are the dirt off the FAI’s shoe.

The Irish women’s soccer team make clear their issues with the FAI

SEVEN DAYS: IN NUMBERS

6.4%

The unemployment rate in March, its lowest level in almost a decade

$48.7bn

Tesla’s market cap at the end of trading on Monday, overtaking Ford for the first time

€2,700

Pay rise that more than 90 TDs received this week

€50,000

Size of the reward that John McAreavey has offered for information leading to the prosecution of the killer of his wife, Michaela

21

Number of advertisers who pulled their ads from the Bill O’Reilly show on Fox News after allegations of sexual harassment

€282m

Amount by which the exchequer returns fell short of Government forecasts

THE QUESTION

Is broadband the new rural electrification?

Tuesday’s announcement that the Government’s National Broadband Plan will cover half a million homes, along with confirmation that Eir was going to provide about 300,000 homes commercially, was meant to be met with great fanfare.

However, minus the more commercially viable homes being catered for by Eir under this deal, the rival bidders for the National Broadband Plan, Enet and Siro, may take a legal challenge, and the State may have to increase its subsidy to the scheme, already estimated at between €1 billion and €1.5 billion.

It all seems a far cry from the previous major rural infrastructure plan this scheme is so often compared to. Discussions about the National Broadband Plan carry frequent echoes of the Rural Electrification Scheme – ever since it was first proposed in 2012, ministers and broadband executives have been keen to evoke that proud example of 20th-century Irish engineering prowess when discussing the potential for broadband rollout to transform the country at

large.

Indeed, the words of ESB founding father Thomas McLaughlin are just as applicable today as when he suggested rural electrification represented “the application of modern science and engineering to raise the standard of rural living and to get to the root of the social evil of the ‘flight from the land’”.

The success of the Rural Electrification Scheme, which between 1946 and 1965 connected 300,000 homes, or 81 per cent of the total number of houses, was a major act of mass modernisation that in some senses marked Ireland’s entry in to the developed world.

It’s true that getting access to 30MBs broadband does not quite represent the same sort of advancement as getting access to the power grid, but if we are not yet at the point where fibre broadband access is a 21st-century equivalent of electricity, it is easy to imagine that point being reached within the next few decades.

Talk of broadband access being enshrined as a human right may seem fanciful right now, but there is every likelihood that in 20 years’ time, such a notion will appear self-evident. – Davin O’Dwyer

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