News Ireland daily BLOG Friday

Friday 10th May 2013

One in five People killed on Irish roads as Pedestrian’s

  

Pedestrian Safety is theme for UN Global Road Safety Week (May 6th to 12th), as figures reveal that 37 pedestrians died on roads in North and South in 2012.

More than 5,000 pedestrians are killed on the world’s roads each week. To date this year 15 pedestrians have died on roads in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar said: “People have really embraced outdoor activities like walking and cycling. It’s healthy, it’s enjoyable and it’s a great alternative to the car. However, pedestrians also need to take great care on the roads, as they are among the most vulnerable road users.

Mr Noel Brett, Chief Executive, Road Safety Authority added: “Last year, 28 people or one in five of all people killed on our roads was a pedestrian. While this is a reduction of 40% on the previous year, it is a reminder to us all that we cannot become complacent. Tragically 11 pedestrians have died on the south’s roads in 2013. Therefore, I would like to ask all road users to redouble their efforts to make our roads safer and to help ensure we have a fatality free week to mark UN Global Road Safety Week.”

The RSA is supporting UN Global Road Safety Week through a series of radio ads which will be aired on local and national radio stations. Visit facebook.com/RSAIreland for more details.

‘Big Brother Josephine Feehily our software will find tax cheats, she says

  

The taxman is cracking down on tax cheats thanks to new ‘Big Brother’ computer software, Revenue Commissioners boss Josephine Feehily has revealed.

Ms Feehily told a Dail committee that tax officials can now trawl through reams of data, including bank accounts and mobile phone numbers, to spot cheats.

The trawl is currently focused on VAT but will be widened to income tax and other taxes next year.

Results could also be shared with the Department of Social Protection in 2014 to prevent welfare fraud.

Ms Feehily said a probe into specific sectors such as the the car industry to tackle EU-wide VAT abuses found 18 car traders here needed to be investigated more deeply. Two have already been prosecuted and one jailed.

Welfare: Turning to the property tax, Ms Feehily said Revenue planned to force PAYE workers evading the property tax to cough up within weeks of next month’s payment deadline. Revenue will begin deducting the property tax from PAYE workers’ pay cheques in July, she added.

People receiving occupational pensions will be next in the firing line followed by social welfare recipients.

The self-employed will be hit once they file annual returns in October and a surcharge could be applied. She said the tax office would make efforts to communicate with people before the tax is deducted.

About 80pc of all taxes are paid but Revenue says it expects compliance with the property tax to be higher.

Around 638,000 returns had been filed by yesterday morning or 40pc of the total figure. The deadline is three weeks away.

“We’re very pleased with this,” Ms Feehily told the Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

The fact that local authorities can raise or lower the property tax by as much as 15pc also got a lot of attention at the meeting. Local authorities can change the tax rate as early as 2015.

To collect the property tax, Revenue has been allocated a budget of €26m for 2013. Normally it is only allowed to spend 1pc of the overall value of a tax.

Since the Government estimates the property tax should generate around €500m a year, Revenue’s normal budget for this would be €5m a year.

However, it is permitted to bump this up to €10m for the first two years of the tax for start-up costs. It has already spent €9m this year, with postage a huge cost.

The HSE under the microscope for its expenditure and search for savings

   

Paul Mulholland reports on the HSE’s recent appearance before the Public Accounts Committee

The HSE was recently before the Public Accounts Committee to discuss the Controller and Auditor General’s report into the Executive’s 2011 financial statements, and also provide an update on its current financial situation.

The HSE’s gross expenditure in 2011 amounted to €13.9 billion. The outturn was approximately four per cent below the 2010 gross expenditure level and eight per cent below peak expenditure in 2009.

An additional €148 million through a Supplementary Estimate was required at the end of the year to balance its budget.

A total of €58 million was required due to a shortfall in funding in 2011 arising from a lower than anticipated uptake in the early retirement and voluntary redundancy schemes.

Some two-thirds of the additional provision was for increased spending on medical card schemes and community services. The outturn for these services was €2.58 billion, which was 6.8 per cent above the original Estimate for the year. The provisional outturn for 2012 indicates that spending in these areas continued to run ahead of the Estimate provision year, ending approximately nine per cent on the Estimate provision, which was one of the main reasons a Supplementary Estimate, amounting to a net €360 million, was also required.

Director General Designate of the HSE, Mr Tony O’Brien, told the PAC that developing a robust and fit-for-purpose financial system is a priority for both the HSE and the Department of Health. The Ogden review was commissioned by the Department of Health in May 2012 and was completed in July 2012. On the basis of the review and predicted continued financial deficits, further work was commissioned last year, and a report was completed in September 2012.

“The report highlighted the need to take immediate action to improve the financial management systems in health,” according to Mr O’Brien.

“A key priority for me on my appointment in August 2012 was to stabilise HSE finances and to implement the actions outlined in the second review, the PA review, commissioned by the Department. The engagement of PA by the HSE is one of the first steps in the financial reform of the health service which is a central element of the overall reform programme.

This work is well under way and is due to be completed in the coming weeks and will lay the foundations for further financial reform. The appointment of a new chief financial officer to the HSE is also central to driving forward the changes needed to develop the finance function in the context of the wider health reform programme including: Money-follows-the-patient and universal health insurance. The selection process to fill this post is currently underway and is due to be completed shortly.”

Sinn Féin Deputy Mary Lou McDonald questioned Mr O’Brien about how the HSE will achieve the €721 million in savings earmarked for this year in light of the fact that the Executive already had a deficit of €13 million at the end of February.

“A big proportion of these savings is attributable to changes in the cost of providing service by way of workforce-related matters,” Mr O’Brien said.

“The substantial other component relates to changes in the cost of providing schemes, which are the product of changes in eligibility and co-payment issues with some reductions in costs, particularly under the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, IPHA, agreement, and a number of changes that we are pushing forward, for example, in the medicines management programme, which is designed to increase the number of lower-cost drugs that are prescribed as a proportion of the total.”

Mr O’Brien added that the HSE, in fact, had an €18 million surplus at the end of March. The figure takes account of a €25 million underspend on the capital side and an overspend of €7 million on the revenue side. Mr O’Brien said that the improvement in the financial position is due to a number of measures related to the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS), which is earmarked to deliver €323 million  savings this year.

“In this regard, however, I must caution that many of the challenges which relate to the saving targets … by their nature are timed to have their impact in the latter stages of the year,” he said.

“Some of those are already having a positive impact but the great proportion of them are not scheduled to have had an impact in the first quarter.”

Mr O’Brien expressed some concern about the impasse on Croke 2, through which €150 million in savings are due to be made. A further €106 million has also been specified as being related to pay and flexibility arrangements under Croke Park 1.

“Clearly, while the health service has proved to be an effective environment in which to extract flexibility issues in recent years under Croke Park 1, obviously I have some concern that, in the current environment, we would need to be certain of the industrial relations environment and the Croke Park 2 environment in order to be absolutely certain of delivery in that regard. However, for the present time, as the Deputy is aware, at a central Government level a process is now in place by central Government, which is designed to address the result of the Croke Park 2 ballots and until we know the outcome of that, it is difficult to be certain what will be the outturn in respect of those two issues.”

Deputy McDonald asked Mr O’Brien if the HSE had made contingency arrangements should these anticipated savings not arise. Mr O’Brien replied that the Government intends to deliver pay-related savings of that order and, therefore, it would be inappropriate for the HSE to begin examining other ways of reducing expenditure at that level because that would involve cuts in services.

“For the time being, it is not appropriate for the HSE to begin to consider alternative ways to leverage that kind of cost reduction,” according to Mr O’Brien.

“This is because first, this is not profiled until 1 July onwards or in other words is a second-half issue. Second, in the absence of measures that reduce our costs, it would be extremely challenging to begin to extract that level of saving from the direct provision of services. As it would have a highly negative effect on the provision of healthcare, for the time being it is appropriate for us to await the outcome of the process the Government has initiated.”

Connacht Gold to change brand name to Aurivo Co-operative

 

Chairman says time is right to invest in ‘new brand architecture’

Padraig Gibbons: “Today’s decision provides a new platform for innovation and growth

Connacht Gold will be renamed the Aurivo Co-operative Society after shareholders unanimously endorsed the change at a special general meeting in Claremorris yesterday.

Chairman Padraig Gibbons said the proposal followed discussions and market research over the past two years.

“With the growth in depth and breadth of our business in recent years, the board felt the time is now right to invest in new brand architecture. Today’s decision provides a new platform for innovation and growth which will benefit our businesses and the communities we serve,” said Mr Gibbons.

The co-operative’s 39 retail stores will be rebranded Homeland and Homeland Agri depending on the products available in the store. Animal feed will also be marketed under a new brand, Nutrias.

The rebranding will not affect the Connacht Gold dairy brands Donegal Creameries and the recently acquired Organic For Us brand.

Phone app tracks ladybird invasion

  

A new mobile phone app will help people monitor harlequin ladybird numbers

Scientists have launched a mobile phone app to monitor the impact of the invasive harlequin ladybird on the UK’s native species.

The free app, irecord ladybirds, was produced by scientists at the centre for ecology and hydrology working with the nature locator team at the University of Bristol.

it allows users to connect to the UK ladybird survey and input their own records of species across the country, which are used to track ladybird populations.

Data submitted to the survey, which launched in 1968, has already shown a decline in native species such as the two-spot ladybird in response to the arrival of the harlequin, which was first seen in England in 2003.

Conservationists hope the app will show whether native ladybird species will bounce back in 2013 and provide insight into the invasion process in the future.

Dr Helen Roy, from the UK ladybird survey, said: “i have been inspired by the number of people getting involved with the UK ladybird survey via email, online recording, twitter and traditional pen and paper – the observations they submit are invaluable.

“With the new app we now have a further opportunity to continue monitoring the harlequin ladybird alongside other species to further our understanding of the invasion process.”

More than 50,000 records, which are published online, have been submitted by members of the public since the survey’s launch in 1968. lower numbers of harlequin and native ladybirds were reported in 2012, though the number of records remained stable for the mildew-feeding orange ladybird.

Dave Kilbey, nature locator project manager at the university of Bristol, said: “smartphone apps like this one have the potential to transform the way we record and monitor wildlife populations owing to a combination of useful features such as GPS location fixing, help with making a correct identification and the ability to take and submit images with records.”

Each species has a distribution map and habitat information within the app, with photographs and a simple identification key also provided. information gathered by the survey is used by scientists to ascertain how wildlife is changing due to factors such as climate chance and the arrival of new species.

International Space Station is leaking ammonia but crew is safe

  

The International Space Station is leaking ammonia from its P6 truss structure but the crew is “in no danger,” NASA reported this week.

The Expedition 35 crew reported seeing “white flakes floating away from an area of the International Space Station’s P6 truss structure” on Thursday at around 11:30 a.m. Eastern, according to the space agency.

As of Thursday, NASA said that “the rate of the ammonia leaking from this section of the coolingsystem  has increased” but maintained that the “station continues to operate normally otherwise and the crew is in no danger.”

The leaking ammonia was coming from the same solar array cooling loop that sprung a leak last year. The ISS crew “attempted to troubleshoot” that leak on Nov. 1, 2012, according to NASA, which didn’t specify whether they had been successful.

“It is not yet known whether this increased ammonia flow is from the same leak, which at the time, was not visible,” the space agency said.

Mission Control and the ISS crew have apparently narrowed down the location of the leak but have not isolated its exact location. NASA said “[p]lans are being developed to reroute other power channels to maintain full operation of those and other systems normally controlled by the solar array that is cooled by this loop.”

NASA reported Thursday that its thermal control systems team was projecting a shutdown of the affected cooling loop in “about 48 hours” due to the leak.

“The team is looking at whether any additional imagery is needed to isolate the leak’s location,” the space agency said.

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