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Joe Biden’s ‘Black and Tans’ gaffe was unfortunate – he might want to stick to the script from now on | UK News

It had all been going so well. 

The serious political business of the day dispensed with, Joe Biden left Belfast and broke for the border.

Arriving for the first day of ancestral exploration in County Louth, he was taken on a tour of Carlingford Castle, the last sight his great-great-grandfather Owen Finnegan would have seen in 1849 as he sailed away to a new life in America.

The rain sheeted down, the cold was something from the depths of winter.

And yet, the 80-year-old president exuded an energy of a much younger man, beaming from beneath his baseball cap as he arrived in Dundalk.

Traditionally a staunchly republican border town, he wound up at a bar improbably called The Windsor.

Here, in relaxed mood, he spoke from the heart, and apparently off the cuff.

And that’s where the gaffe came from.

He was paying tribute to his distant cousin in the room, the former Irish rugby international Rob Kearney.

Kearney was a member of the Irish team that famously beat New Zealand’s All Blacks for the first time ever, in a 2016 match played in Chicago.

Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016 Pic AP
Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016 Pic AP

Read more:
Biden’s controversial comments on Ireland
How Irish is Joe Biden, really?

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‘The best drop of blood in you is Irish’

President Biden, who played rugby himself as a student, said that Rob Kearney was “a hell of a rugby player, and beat the Black and Tans”, thus confusing New Zealand’s famous team with the reviled British paramilitary force the Black and Tans, who brutally repressed opponents of British rule during the Irish War of Independence.

Most infamously, the force massacred 14 people and wounded 60 more at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in Dublin in 1920.

It seemed an obvious slip of the tongue, rather than anything intentional.

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But here you had a US president often accused by unionists of being rabidly republican, apparently bragging about his family beating the British. In that context, the remark was deeply unfortunate.

President Biden continues on a more familiar political path on Thursday, meeting with the Irish president and prime minister, and addressing the Irish parliament. We can expect his comments there to remain more rigidly to script.

‘Major breakthrough’: Most firms say they’ll stick with a four-day working week after successful trial | UK News

The world’s biggest trial of a four-day working week has been hailed a success – with most of the companies involved saying they would continue offering a shorter week.

A total of 61 companies across several sectors in the UK were involved in the pilot, which ran for six months from June last year.

Employers had to make sure there was no reduction in wages for staff who took part in trialling a 32-hour week.

At least 56 out of the 61 firms which took part said they plan to continue with the four-day working week, including The Royal Society Of Biology based in London.

Chief Executive Mark Downs said productivity had increased.

He added: “There’s been a decline in the number of sick days taken during the period of the trial.

“Before the trial, on average, each person would take four or five sick days per year – that’s down to less than two.

“I think it’s a substantial difference.”

Other firms involved in the pilot have had similar experiences.

Research carried out by the University of Cambridge and Boston College found that the number of sick days taken by the 2,900 staff in the trial fell by about two-thirds.

Also, 39% of employees said they were less stressed.

Tessa Gibson, a senior accreditation officer at the Royal Society of Biology, said she would not want to go back to a five-day week – adding: “Weekends can be quite hectic, so it has been quite nice to have that extra day to see your friends and family, and then you get that extra day off during the week to do all your chores or to have that time to relax.

“It has made a big difference to my mental health.”

The COVID pandemic has meant that employers are having to find more flexible working arrangements in order to attract and retain staff, but not all businesses think a four-day week is the solution.

Jay Richards is the co-founder of Imagen Insights, which helps brands gather feedback from young people.

He said a four-day working week often leaves employees feeling like they have to squeeze more work into fewer days.

“I think a four-day week sounds good in principle but in practice how many companies are going to be able to support employees’ wellbeing if they are going from a normal five-day week and cramming that down into four days?

“We do a five-day week but we work 10am to 4pm, we shorten the days so the employees have that work-life harmony but they’re not actually shortening their week, which I think would put more pressure on them.”

The findings of the pilot scheme will be presented to MPs on Tuesday 20 February.