Opinion

King Charles deserves our sympathy but does his cancer deserve more coverage than the suffering in Gaza? - Jake O’Kane

The withdrawal of funding from the UN aid agency dealing with the crisis in Gaza is adding to the suffering of displaced and bombed Palestinian civilians, says Jake O’Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake is a comic, columnist and contrarian.

A Palestinian child looks at the damage to his family’s house after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip (Fatima Shbair/AP)
A Palestinian child looks at the damage to his family’s house after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Governments, including the UK, have cut their UNRWA funding after allegations that workers for the aid agency were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel (Fatima Shbair/AP) (Fatima Shbair/AP)

You’d need to be a complete ogre not to feel sympathy for King Charles following reports he’s being treated for an undisclosed form of cancer. Like most people, I wish him a quick and full recovery.

What follows should, in no way, detract from that sentiment as it’s more a comment on the media than on the king’s health. What I found striking was the blanket coverage devoted to the health of one old man compared to the present suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

While King Charles is guaranteed to receive the very best treatment from the world’s top medics, the UK government has just halted funding to UNRWA, the main aid agency dealing with the crisis in Gaza. Britain is joined in the withdrawal of funding by the US, Australia, Italy, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany; in short, those responsible for providing over half the funding for the charity.

Weekly audiences between the King and Rishi Sunak are expected to resume in person in two weeks following Charles’ cancer diagnosis
King Charles III cancer diagnosis King Charles has been diagnosed with cancer (Victoria Jones/PA)

The financial boycott began after a claim by Israel that 12 members of staff at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) had been involved in the October 7 attacks by Hamas. Though this has yet to be proven, the charity immediately sacked those named.

To put the accusation in context, UNRWA has 13,000 staff and, as a matter of policy, regularly passed their details to Israel for security checks. Even if the individuals accused are found to be guilty, the reaction of the funding countries is so disproportionate as to appear like yet another example of collective punishment.

There was no such international reaction against Israel following the deaths of over 100 UNRWA staff killed during the first four months of the invasion.

The immediate impact of the withdrawal of funding will be felt by over one million displaced people in Gaza taking refuge in and around UNRWA buildings, and with the charity warning it will shortly run out of money, starvation will now be added to the untold suffering inflicted on the 2.3 million trapped civilian population.



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My column last week spoke of the dangers of XL bully dogs. Within a matter of hours after last week’s column was published, 68-year-old grandmother, Esther Martin, tragically lost her life after an attack by two XL bullies when visiting her grandchild in Jaywick, Essex. It’s believed she’d been attempting to separate fighting puppies when attacked by the parent dogs.

I hope that we aren’t forced to wait until a similar tragedy occurs here before our politicians enact legislation in line with that in England and Wales, placing restrictions on the ownership, breeding and trading of this breed of dog.

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SDLP’s Justin McNulty arrives for the first sitting of the assembly at Stormont on Tuesday.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty was suspended by the party after he left Saturday's session early to travel by helicopter to Wexford for his Laois team's NFL Division 4 fixture (Colm Lenaghan)

It was at least an entertaining if not enlightening restart to our assembly. On only its first day, one MLA went Awol and the newly-elected speaker Edwin Poots threatened to clean another members clock.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty acted like a GAA version of Anneka Rice from the gameshow Treasure Hunt, as he rushed from the assembly to a waiting helicopter which whisked him to Wexford where his team Laois were playing. Not only did he succeed in arriving on time, but his team won by 10 points.

Promptly suspended by his party for not seeking permission to leave, at the time of writing the SDLP continue to dither on what to do next. Their timidity is well-founded, as they know expelling McNulty could lead to a backlash from devoted GAA fans who see his actions as an admirable commitment to his team rather than a dereliction of his political responsibilities.

Maybe Poots should have taken a seat on the helicopter too, as he also immediately ran into controversy.

Jim Allister taunted Poots that he’d gone from ‘Mr Seismic’ to ‘Mr Speaker’, a reference to a comment made by Poots last year when he said the UK government would need to do something ‘seismic’ before the DUP would return to government.

Poots responded to Allister’s jibe, stating if he hadn’t been speaker he’d have “cleaned his clock”. I suspect this is wishful thinking from Poots as, while he has the physical advantage in height and weight, I’m certain Allister would be the trickier fighter.

I imagine the ringside commentary going like this: “Ding, ding, round one. Poots comes out flailing, but Allister’s nimble footwork keeps him out of trouble. Allister is showboating, goading Poots to attack... He’s fallen for the trap and Allister jumps and lands a well-aimed headbutt to Poots’s groin, the big man has collapsed like a 11th night bonfire… eight, nine, 10, he’s out...”