Lessons for the Arctic from Singapore's smart nation drive

TROMSO – Singapore is a small country with no natural resources, but it has successfully harnessed technology, including sensors and automated meters, to help it fulfil its ambitions of becoming a smart city.

This is an experience it hopes to share with other nations looking to technology for solutions to challenges such as climate change, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan said on Monday (Jan 21).

Speaking to a crowd of policy makers and academics at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway, Mr Tan said the theme of this year’s event, “Smart Arctic”, was a timely one, with new technologies bringing about opportunities and disruptions.

For example, Singapore is investing in revamping its power grid to become more energy-efficient and deploying sensors that can collect real-time data on wind, sunlight and shade in residential areas. By analysing this information, urban planners will be able to get more insight into how to design and site future housing estates to reduce the need for air-conditioning. “This will in turn reduce our carbon emissions,” said Mr Tan.

The use of technology to strike a balance between development and the protection of the Arctic environment looks set to be major theme during the five-day Arctic Frontiers conference, which kicked off on Sunday.

On Monday (Jan 21), Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment Ola Elvestuen cited a recent scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as being an urgent call for countries to transition to a low carbon future.

The report highlighted the differences in impacts of a 1.5 deg C global warming scenario versus a 2 deg C one, with the latter resulting in catastrophic impacts on earth systems, human livelihoods and biodiversity. “We must be smarter and more efficient at using energy. We need smart cities and communities, and… strong policies to speed up transitions to a low emission society,” he said.

Some of Singapore’s home-grown innovations could help.

Local start-up Third Wave Power, for example, has designed a portable solar charger that can be used by off-grid rural communities. “This is useful for people living in remote areas, not just in South-east Asia, but also the Arctic region,” said Mr Tan.

Ms Hema Nadarajah, a Singaporean doctoral candidate studying international relations at the University of British Columbia’s department of political science, said both the Arctic and South-east Asia have many remote communities that experience extreme weather conditions, and share common issues related to ageing energy infrastructure. She said: “With similar challenges, solutions can be translated and adapted to the local context.”

Mr Tan also highlighted the importance of context during the event, acknowledging that solutions from Singapore cannot be directly applied to the Arctic region due to the differences between both regions.

“But I hope this will provide examples and options to think about while you are planning for a smarter Arctic. As an observer, we would like to share our information and experience with our Arctic counterparts” he said, referring to how Singapore was granted observer status at the Arctic Council in 2013.

He added: ” Together, we can make the Arctic cool again.”

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Teachers unable to connect to school Wi-Fi networks, MOE rules out cyber security incident

SINGAPORE – Teachers at some schools across Singapore were unable to boot up or connect their computers to their schools’ Wi-Fi networks on Monday afternoon (Jan 21).

The Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times on Tuesday that it was a “technical issue”.

MOE chief information officer Tan Bee Teck said: “We have ascertained that it was not a cyber security incident.”

He added that the issue was resolved as of 3pm on Monday.

According to HardwareZone, a website for technology-related discussions and updates, the glitch started at around 12pm.

“Some teachers… faced an issue of not being to log in on their work laptops. A pop-up appears with a sad face,” wrote one user, crediting a source who was on the staff at one of the schools affected.

MOE has not yet revealed the number of schools affected, or how it concluded that the incident was not a cyber attack.

Mr Tan added: “MOE is working with the affected schools to assist users who may still face issues with their devices.”

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France, Germany seek closer bond with treaty ahead of Brexit

AACHEN, Germany (AFP) – France and Germany will sign a new friendship treaty on Tuesday (Jan 22), seeking to boost an alliance at the heart of the European Union as Britain bows out and with nationalism rising around the continent.

President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel will sign the deal, which pledges deeper economic and defence ties as well as commitment to the EU, in the German city of Aachen.

The French presidency said it was an “important moment” for showing the relationship was “a bedrock which can relaunch itself … in the service of reinforcing the European project”.

Aachen, which sits on the Dutch and Belgian borders, is rich in European symbolism as the seat of power of Charlemagne, the 1st-century emperor who ruled over swathes of western Europe.

“We’re seeing an existential crisis in terms of European integration, with Brexit and the expected strengthening of nationalists at the next European elections,” said Claire Demesmay, a political scientist at German research institute DGAP.

“In this context, confirming this belief in Franco-German cooperation has symbolic value,” she told German public radio.

Merkel and Macron will sign the deal on the anniversary of a similar Franco-German cooperation treaty in 1963 by France’s Charles de Gaulle and the German chancellor of the time, Konrad Adenauer.

The new treaty aims to kickstart the relationship known as the “Franco-German motor”, traditionally seen as the key alliance in Europe between two economic and political heavyweights.

Macron came into power in May 2017 seeking Merkel’s backing for major reforms of the EU in a bid to restore faith in its institutions and quell rising populism.

But his ideas met with only lukewarm support from Merkel and other EU leaders, while Paris and Berlin have differed on other issues including how to tax Internet giants.

In December, EU leaders signed off on a watered-down version of Macron’s proposals, including a highly tentative plan to explore a eurozone budget.

FAR-RIGHT COMPLAINTS

The treaty commits France and Germany to closer military ties, including possible joint deployments – in the event of a terror attack, for example.

The two countries could also cooperate more closely on procurement, such as the purchase or development of new tanks or fighter jets.

And it includes a “mutual defence clause” in the event of one of them being attacked, although they are already committed to this as members of Nato.

The closer military ties come after Macron sparked a row with President Donald Trump late last year by urging Europe to reduce its military dependence on the US, even calling for a “real European army”.

The treaty also paves the way for a joint parliament made up of 50 members of the French national assembly and the same number from the Bundestag, and language-learning initiatives in both countries.

But at home, Macron’s critics on both the far-left and far-right have seized on the treaty as an erosion of French sovereignty.

A wave of false rumours have spread online that Macron is going to Germany to sign away parts of French territory to Merkel.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused Macron of seeking to “dismantle the power of our country”.

WEAKENED LEADERS

Both Macron and Merkel have spoken movingly of the importance of close ties between two countries which share the brutal history of two world wars.

But some other European leaders have bristled at the idea of an all-dominating “Franco-German motor”.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said ahead of European parliament elections in May that he wants to challenge Merkel and Macron’s staunchly pro-European message with a eurosceptic “Italian-Polish axis”.

Both the French and German leaders have seen easier times, with Germany already looking to a post-Merkel future after she announced she would step down as chancellor in 2021.

Macron’s grand plans to save Europe have meanwhile had to go on the backburner as he grapples with a wave of anti-government “yellow vest” protests.

Both leaders will speak at the signing ceremony at Aachen’s historic city hall before taking part in a “citizen debate” with French and German students.

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Senator known for her strong questioning of Trump nominees launches bid for White House

Kamala Harris, a first-term senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of US President Donald Trump’s nominees, has entered the Democratic presidential race.

The 54-year-old, who vowed to “bring our voices together”, would be the first woman to hold the presidency and the second African-American if she succeeds.

Ms Harris, who grew up in Oakland, California, and is a daughter of parents from Jamaica and India, is one of the earliest high-profile Democrats to join what is expected to be a crowded field.

She made her long anticipated announcement on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’.

“I am running for president of the United States,” she said. “And I’m very excited about it.”

Ms Harris portrayed herself as a fighter for justice, decency and equality in a video distributed by her campaign as she announced her bid.

“They’re the values we as Americans cherish, and they’re all on the line now,” Ms Harris says in the video.

“The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values.”

On ABC, she cited her years as a prosecutor in asserting: “My entire career has been focused on keeping people safe. It is probably one of the things that motivates me more than anything else.”

Ms Harris launched her presidential bid as the nation observes what would have been the 90th birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The timing was a clear signal that the California senator – who has joked that she had a “stroller’s eye view” of the civil rights movement because her parents wheeled her and her sister Maya to protests – sees herself as another leader in that fight.

She abandoned the formality of launching an exploratory committee, instead going all in on a presidential bid.

Ms Harris has become popular with liberal activists for her tough questioning of Trump administration appointees and officials, including Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and former attorney general Jeff Sessions, during Senate hearings. She plans to have a formal launch in Oakland on January 27.

Ms Harris joins what is expected to be a wide-open race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

There is no apparent frontrunner at this early stage and Ms Harris will face off against several Senate colleagues.

Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have both launched exploratory committees. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are also looking at the race.

If Mr Booker enters the race, he and Ms Harris could face a fierce competition for support from black voters.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Democratic nomination, is also considering a campaign. Several other Democrats have already declared their intentions, including former Maryland Representative John Delaney and former Obama administration housing chief Julián Castro.

Ms Harris and other Democrats will have to navigate the party’s debate about whether an establishment figure who can appeal to centrist voters or a fresh face who can energise its increasingly diverse and progressive base offers the best chance to beat Mr Trump in 2020.

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Alex Kane: 'With nothing set in stone, Brexit sands will continue to shift beneath May's feet'

Just 66 days to go and Mrs May is only now getting around to presenting her Plan B for extricating the United Kingdom from the EU. It isn’t even a thought-through, properly tested Plan B; merely an amendable motion to the House of Commons that could, after hours of acrimonious same-old, same-old debate, crash and burn next Tuesday evening, by which time there’ll be just 59 days left to concoct and deliver a deal.

The real problem – and it has dogged the process from day one of her premiership – is nothing has been set in stone.

Even the exit date of March 29 isn’t, because there are enough MPs across the House who believe the exit timetable can be extended, or postponed altogether.

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And because enough of them believe that, it means they’ll continue to “chance their arm” with other options rather than focus on getting the UK out in one piece and with a clear gameplan in place once the clock hand reaches one minute past 11pm on March 29.

Mrs May faces a seemingly impossible task today. I say seemingly only because she clearly believes – although she may now be utterly deluded – she can yet convert her “Brexit means Brexit” mantra into an orderly and coherent departure.

Ideally, she needs something that will attract support from the Labour, SNP and Lib Dem benches – enormously difficult if she refuses to contemplate a very “soft” Brexit, continuing free movement and membership of the customs union.

She has spent the past few days talking to those parties (unofficially in Labour’s case, because Jeremy Corbyn refused to take part without a pledge that she would rule out a no-deal option. She couldn’t, of course, because that could have meant not leaving on March 29), but there are no whispers of a breakthrough.

Her other problem, of course, is Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group (ERG) and the DUP – totalling around 80-90 MPs – will not run with a soft Brexit.

That said, the DUP could be tempted to support her if it had rock-solid guarantees the backstop would be time-limited to a maximum of two years.

Its linkage to Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson has ensured massive publicity for the DUP, but it is not psychologically, nor ideologically, wedded to a hard Brexit in the way the ERG is; what it really wants is a soft solution for the Border, and a deal that keeps it in step with the entire UK.

Within the next few days Mrs May needs fairly conclusive evidence she can, against all the odds, deliver Brexit in some form; albeit one that avoids a formal split within her party.

All of her instincts are against a no-deal exit. The instincts of an overwhelming Commons majority are against no-deal.

There is talk of a general election at the end of February, but if she hasn’t been able to get common ground with her parliamentary party since the last election in June 2017, then I don’t see her being able to construct a manifesto around which her party could stand. An early election would almost certainly require postponing Brexit, plus she has no guarantee the Conservatives would win either a convincing, or consensual, majority.

She needs to be careful, too, about the guerrilla tactics being waged against her from all sides of the House.

There are a number in play over the next few days, including a bill to extend Article 50, an amendment for a second referendum, a Labour amendment requiring the government to seek a customs union, and an amendment that expresses parliament’s rejection of a no-deal exit.

Remain MPs represent a comfortable majority across all the benches; but what they don’t have is a common plan built around a single exit strategy.

Mrs May could, if she was so minded (although she has probably left it far too late), try to bind the Remain majority around a very soft Brexit, hoping they would prefer that to a no-deal departure. There’s a fair chance of keeping about two-thirds of her own MPs on board, but a far higher one of splitting the Conservatives down the middle and destroying hundreds of constituency associations.

She fears a referendum for the same reason. I believe her when she says she wants to “implement” the will of the majority at the 2016 referendum.

I don’t think she would shed any tears if a second referendum delivered a victory for Remain (although it would have to be a very comfortable majority), yet she would be well aware it would do huge electoral damage to the Tories and maybe (which I think is less likely) provide a significant breakthrough for Ukip.

It is significant, though, that both Nigel Farage and the Leave Means Leave group are already planning for an “inevitable” second referendum.

Can the EU help Mrs May at this stage? It will give her nothing unless it is sure she can get an amended version of the withdrawal agreement through.

Why, for example, would it shift on the Irish backstop (a hugely significant concession) if it thought she was still likely to lose? More importantly, why offer any concessions while a second referendum – and possible Remain victory – is still in play?

As it stands, I would be astonished – something I haven’t been for a long, long time – if the UK leaves on March 29.

Ironically, that’s when the real political crisis may start.

One thing we have learned over the past 30 months is that parliament has been useless, absolutely useless, in a crisis.

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Zimbabwe leader abandons trip amid unrest

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has broken off a trip to Europe amid violent protests in his home country.

Mr Mnangagwa had been due to attend the Davos economic summit where he was expected to seek investment for Zimbabwe.

Ministers say the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is using sharp fuel price increases as a pretext for violence.

But the MDC accuses the authorities of a brutal crackdown.

Mr Mnangagwa’s announcement of a steep increase in the fuel price over a week ago led to angry protests in the capital, Harare, and the south-western city of Bulawayo.

Rights groups say at least 12 people have been killed but this has not been officially confirmed.

Mr Mnangagwa arrived back in Harare late on Monday night.

Earlier, MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said many of the party’s members had been detained including four MPs.

He accused security forces of attacking families in their homes.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the umbrella group that called the protests, says its leader Japhet Moyo has also been arrested.

As tensions rose, the government said on Sunday that the security forces’ actions were just “a foretaste of things to come”.

“The MDC leadership has been consistently pushing out the message that they will use violent street action to overturn the results of [last year’s] ballot,” presidential spokesman George Charamba said.

The opposition rejected a court ruling in August 2018 that confirmed that President Mnangagwa had defeated Mr Chamisa.

What has the opposition said?

Mr Chamisa told the BBC that there was “no justification whatsoever of having soldiers with live ammunition, with guns, machine guns, AK47 on the streets, beating up citizens”.

“People are being approached in their homes, they are being taken out of their homes with their families even if they are sleeping… a lot of people have been arrested for no apparent reason,” he said.

MDC national chairperson Thabitha Khumalo said that she had gone into hiding after the police and military turned up at her home at night.

Why have fuel prices increased?

The price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and “rampant” illegal trading, President Mnangagwa said.

But many Zimbabweans, worn down by years of economic hardship, suddenly found they could not even afford the bus fare to work.

The new prices mean Zimbabwe now has the most expensive fuel in the world, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com

Mr Mnangagwa has been struggling to revive the economy, which is experiencing high inflation while wages have stagnated.

It emerged on Monday that South Africa had rejected a request from Zimbabwe for an emergency loan of $1.2bn (£932m) in December.

The government had hoped the cash would help stabilise the economy and resolve fuel shortages in the country.

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'Amazing' Stonehenge-like circle was built by farmer in the 1990s

When archaeologists announced the discovery of an “amazing” 4,500-year-old Stonehenge-like stone circle on an Aberdeenshire farm in December they admitted it was odd that it had remained hidden for so long.

With its diminutive circumference relative to similar structures, and smallish stones, experts said the Neolithic monument in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie was unusual, but added that they hoped it might change their understanding of prehistoric building.

Sadly such optimism was not to be realised. This week a farmer who had once owned the land got in touch to say he had built it himself in the 1990s.

Neil Ackerman, the historic environment record assistant at Aberdeenshire council, said: “These types of monument are notoriously difficult to date. It is obviously disappointing to learn of this development, but it also adds an interesting element to its story.

“I hope the stones continue to be used and enjoyed – while not ancient, it is still in a fantastic location and makes for a great feature in the landscape.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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Max Boot: 'Trump has one saving grace – the man is incompetent'

On January 20, 2017, President Donald Trump delivered a bleak inauguration address that warned of “American carnage”. He has spent the past two years turning those words into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So much has happened that it’s hard to keep it all straight. Every week, the Trump administration produces more news than previous administrations did in an entire year. It’s not all bad: We haven’t seen a new war or a recession. Conservatives can be happy about judges and tax cuts. But at what cost?

A few stark themes have emerged from the past 730 days. Trump’s presidency so far can be summed up with four bleak words: Racism. Authoritarianism. Incompetence. Megalomania.

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Racism: Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, Virginia, equating neo-Nazis with their opponents. He insulted the intelligence of African-Americans such as Republican LeBron James and Democrat Maxine Waters, and referred to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” because she claims Native American heritage.

Trump said he wants immigrants from snow-white Norway, not from “shithole countries” in Africa, whipped up hysteria about Central American “caravans” of refugees, and pilloried African-American National Football League players who kneeled to protest police brutality during the national anthem.

He echoed the alt-right in expressing concern about the plight of white farmers in South Africa. He approvingly quoted Pat Buchanan, whom he once denounced as a “Hitler lover”. His views are almost indistinguishable from Republican Steve King, stripped of his committee assignments for advocacy of white supremacy.

Authoritarianism: Trump fawned over foreign dictators. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “very much of a leader”, Chinese President Xi Jinping is “a highly respected and powerful representative of his people”, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is doing an “unbelievable job”, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “getting very high marks”, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is “very open and terrific”. These are five of the planet’s worst human rights violators.

Trump also tried, with mercifully limited success, to emulate their illiberal example. He claimed the “absolute right” to declare a national emergency to build a border wall Congress won’t fund. He deployed troops to the border in a political stunt. He revoked the security clearance of a former CIA director who criticised him. He created a climate of rhetorical violence associated with mail bombs and a synagogue shooting.

He called the press the “enemy of the people”, a term from Josef Stalin. Much of the reason Trump dislikes the “fake news media” is they call him out on his lies.

In 2018, he averaged 15 falsehoods a day. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump told his followers, echoing George Orwell’s ‘1984’: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Trump is at war not only with the truth but also with the law. He fired the FBI director and attorney general to stop an investigation of his campaign.

Incompetence: If Trump has a saving grace, it is that he is so incompetent – a more cunning populist would be far more dangerous. His tweets are riddled with spelling, grammar and factual mistakes. (Remember the “smocking gun”?)

More significantly, he couldn’t get a Republican-controlled Congress to approve a border wall or repeal Obamacare. He can’t consistently break 40pc approval despite a booming economy.

Megalomania: If measured by conventional metrics, Trump’s first two years have been a dismal failure. But if his chief goal is to be the centre of the world’s attention, a president obsessed with TV ratings has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. (© Washington Post Service)

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Dollar holds firm as global growth concerns support safe-havens

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar hovered near 2-week highs against its peers on Tuesday as a slowdown in China’s economy to 28-year lows fanned fresh worries over global growth and prompted investors to move into safe-haven currencies.

Overnight, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its 2019 and 2020 global growth forecasts, citing a bigger-than-expected slowdown in China and the eurozone, and said failure to resolve trade tensions could further destabilise a slowing global economy.

The downgrade came just hours after China reported its slowest quarterly economic growth since the financial crisis and its weakest annual expansion since 1990.

The dollar index .DXY, which measures its strength against a group of six major currencies, was steady at 96.33, holding near a 2-week high of 96.43 hit on Monday.

The dollar strengthened 0.08 percent versus the offshore yuan CNH= to 6.8049 by 0240 GMT. The greenback has gained around 1 percent over the offshore yuan in the last seven sessions.

The yen JPY=, another safe-haven currency, was steady against the dollar, fetching 109.64 in early trade. The Bank of Japan (BoJ)is widely expected to keep its policy unchanged at its Jan. 22-23 meeting. Analysts expect monetary policy to remain highly accommodative in Japan this year.

“The slowing global economy and depressed oil prices are expected to force the BoJ to revise down its outlook for economic growth and inflation,” said Osamu Takashima, currency strategist at Citibank in a note.

On the whole, the dollar is also facing indirect pressure from slackening momentum in the global economy which has forced the U.S. Federal Reserve to take a cautious approach on any further interest rate increases. Speculation is rife the Fed might soon pause its tightening cycle.

“We do not see the Federal Reserve raising rates this year which should lead to weakness in the dollar. We also think the dollar is overbought and over-valued on fundamental metrics,” said Jason Wong, senior markets strategist at BNZ markets.

Sterling GBP= continued to wobble. With little time left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29, there is no agreement in London on how and even whether it should leave the world’s biggest trading bloc, and a growing chance of a dramatic ‘no-deal’ exit with no provisions to soften the economic shock.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was roundly rejected by parliament last week and on Monday she set out a proposal to overcome the impasse by seeking further concessions from the EU on a plan to prevent customs checks on the Irish border.

“With deadlines fast approaching and what seems to be a real impasse between the various sides involved, the prospect of a hard ‘no deal’ Brexit appears to becoming more likely,” said Nick Twidale, chief operating officer at Rakuten Securities in a note.

Sterling was marginally lower at $1.2886.

The euro EUR= was flat at $1.1367. The single currency is likely to remain under pressure as growth in Europe’s economic powerhouses, Germany and France, is languishing and inflation remains weak. The European Central Bank is widely expected to maintain an accommodative mode for this year.

The Australian dollar AUD= fell by 0.13 percent to $0.7148. The Aussie dollar is likely to remain under pressure due to the weakening sentiment towards China, its largest trade partner.

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Church should open doors to rough sleepers, says homeless woman who met Pope

A homeless woman sleeping in freezing conditions on the street months after a meeting Pope Francis has called on the Catholic Church to open churches for rough sleepers.

Rosemary Hughes (35), who has a serious visual impairment with only 10pc vision, said she was searching for cardboard to sleep on with her guide dog at a shop front on Grafton Street, Dublin, on Sunday night.

She claimed there was no suitable accommodation avail­able for her and her condition, since a hostel she had been staying in long term was closed down more than two years ago.

Ms Hughes spoke briefly to Pope Francis when he stopped off to visit Brother Kevin Crowley at the Capuchin Day Centre, Dublin, in August last year. “The Pope was very humble and he said no one should be basically left outside on their own, as in we’re all members of society,” Ms Hughes said.

“He was a lovely man,” she added.

However, she was quick to point out she felt more work needed to be done by the Catholic Church in Ireland on the issue of homelessness.

“I think they should be opening the churches to homeless people at night. I think there should be some help providing shelter.

“They certainly have the wealth, they certainly have the power, they certainly have the facilities,” she added.

Ms Hughes had been staying at the John’s Lane West hostel in Dublin 2 for a number of months until it closed in July 2016.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) has said it had offered accommodation to her on a number of occasions but this hadn’t been taken up.

Despite being complimentary of the Pope when she met him in August, Ms Hughes said the Church had been found wanting on issues of homelessness.

She said more needed to be done given its vast wealth and land.

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