Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Friday 28th June 2013

The nine key features of the new “code of conduct on Ireland’s mortgage arrears”


The new code of conduct makes it incumbent on banks to work with distressed mortgage holders to find sustainable solutions,

Irish banks that are dealing with people in mortgage difficulties are obliged to keep them informed of all their options and the alternatives every step of the way. 

The revised code of conduct published by the Central Bank leaves little wriggle room for lenders who do not work with borrowers and try to arrive at the best long-term solution for them.

However, in case the banks do not keep up their side of the bargain, it is worth keeping in mind some key features of the new code of conduct.

Q. Who does this cover? A. As soon as a borrower does not keep up repayments the code kicks in.

A bank is obliged to write to the customer and establish what has happened and offer support to right the situation.

Throughout the process banks have been told to communicate properly with customers but not excessively. Unnecessary calls to people are not allowed.

Unsolicited visits to a person’s home are not allowed unless all other attempts to make contact have failed and it has been classed as a non-cooperative case. Even in these circumstances the lender must give five days’ notice of their intention to call.

Q. What is the first step? A. People have 31 days to get in line before the process moves on. After a month, the banks have to spell out what can be done for the borrower and what their options are. This should include details on what happens if they co-operate with the banks and what can be done if they do not co-operate.

Q. When is the next pinch point? A. If the situation has not improved within three months, the bank has to start drawing up alternative options. When it gets to this stage, lenders have been told they must assist people to get all additional help available, including support from the State if it is applicable.

If a borrower co-operates, a lender cannot impose surcharges or interest on the arrears.

But if somebody fails to co-operate or rejects all of the offers tabled, legal proceedings can begin to repossess the house.

Q. What options are the bank supposed to offer people willing to co-operate? A. Before taking further action the banks have to explore a range of relief options depending on the circumstances in each case.

This includes: The bank take an equity stake in the property in exchange for a write off; put loans on an interest-only basis for a set period of time; permanently lower the interest rate; allow people to pay interest plus a portion of the principal; defer all or part of the mortgage; and/or split the mortgage to park part of it until a later date.

The banks have also been told to consider writing off a portion of the principal due altogether.

Along the way, banks have to document all of the options considered and give reasons for why the preferred solution tabled was considered the most appropriate in this case.

Q. Will the process be the same for everybody? A. No. The Central Bank has stressed that every case is unique and while it has revised a framework for dealing with customers who get into difficulty, it cannot set out a specific plan for each person.

Q. What if a borrower is on a tracker mortgage? A. A bank cannot force a co-operating mortgage holder to change from a tracker deal to another type of product.

The lender can offer a package that includes removing the tracker rate but only if it is the best option available for the customer because the new deal would leave them better off.

Q. If there is no realistic way of managing a mortgage to allow a person keep their home, what should a bank do? A. If a person has been co-operating but all of the remedies are unsustainable, the bank has to look at solutions.

These include giving people the option of handing over their keys and walking away, trading down to a more affordable home, selling the property themselves, or allowing the person to rent the home directly from the bank.

Q. When can a bank begin repossession proceedings? A. When all other avenues to change the mortgage or make it more manageable have been exhausted.

It can also move against the homeowner if they are classed as uncooperative or are deemed to have defrauded the bank. This can happen three months after the first installment is missed.

Q. If a borrower does not work with the bank, can it still avail of the code? A. The code makes a strict definition between those who deal honestly and openly with the bank and borrowers who do not co-operate.

If you fail to provide important information or do not keep in contact with the bank during a period when the loan is not being serviced, you fall into the latter category.

Banks can begin legal proceedings as soon as they declare a borrower to be non-cooperative.

Eamon Gilmore welcomes the US Senate’s approval of new immigration bill


The Tánaiste has welcomed the US Senate’s approval of a new immigration reform bill by 68 votes to 32.

Eamon Gilmore said the bill was another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by the undocumented Irish in the US.

Senator Mark Daly of the Ireland America Association, said it is great news – but the bill still faces the challenge of the House of Representatives.

“The house of representatives is a far more difficult challenge in terms of getting agreement between the republicans and the democrats,” he said.

“But this is really a very positive development and I don’t think 12 months ago we would have believed we would have got this far this fast.”

Irish house prices down in May but slump appears to be bottoming out

 down 1.1% 

Tiny price increases reported in Dublin

Data from the CSO show that house prices fell 1.1 per cent in the year to May.

Property prices across the State fell 1.1 per cent in the year to May, but the general rate of price decline is slowing. The CSO reported a fall of 1.2 per cent in the 12 months to April this year, but this compares to decline of 15.3 per cent recorded between May 2011 and May 2012.

The annual index is calculated as a simple average of the published CSO indices for March, June September and December of each year with a base year of 2005.

Taking the 2005 average as 100, residential property prices rose to a high of 130.5 in September 2007 before slipping downwards for the next 12 months to a figure of 120.1. Price falls accelerated thereafter, hitting a low of 64.1 in March of this year. Price indices generally are now showing small gains.

Overall, residential property prices grew by 0.3 per cent in May and by 0.8 per cent in April of this year. Prices rose by 0.2 per cent in May 2012.

Dublin specifically residential property prices grew by only 0.5 per cent in May and were 1.4 cent higher than a year ago. House prices in the Dublin area grew 0.5 per cent in the month and were 1.3 per cent higher compared to a year earlier. Apartment prices in the capital were 1.2 per cent lower when compared with the same month of 2012. However this figure is calculated on a relatively small sample size and could reflect volatility because of this.

Residential properties in the rest of the State (i.e. excluding Dublin) grew by 0.1 per cent in May, the same as in May last year.

Despite the signs of a modest price recovery, the Dublin market has shown steep declines since the 2007 peak – the most striking price falls anywhere in the Republic. House prices in the city are now on average 55 per cent cheaper whereas apartments are some 61 per cent lower, the CSO reports.

Price falls elsewhere in the State are still pronounced, but not as dramatic. The fall in the average house price outside Dublin is some 48 per cent lower than it was seven years ago, but only 2.8 per cent lower than this time last year.

The trend is also matched in the North.

House prices in Northern Ireland have shown a 2.1 per cent drop – the largest decline anywhere in the UK, figures released by the Nationwide building society show. Average Northern residential property prices have fallen 53 per cent since their 2007 peak.

The average property price now is just £108,116 (€126,000). The average UK price, in contrast, is £168,941 (€197,000). But the average for the London area meanwhile has hit an all-time high of £318,214 (€371,217)

The fall in prices north of the Border is in marked contrast to the overall trend in Britain where an annual increase of 1.9 per cent is the largest year-on-year jump in prices since 2010. The Nationwide reports that the average monthly rise in prices is currently 0.3 per cent, down from 0.4 per cent in May.

Britain plans its first three-parent IVF babies


Treatment for families seeking to avoid passing incurable diseases to children

Britain is planning to become the first country in the world to offer controversial ’three-parent’ fertility treatments to families who want to avoid passing on incurable diseases to their children.

Britain is planning to become the first country in the world to offer controversial “three-parent” fertility treatments to families who want to avoid passing on incurable diseases to their children.

The methods, currently only at the research stage in laboratories in Britain and the United States, would for the first time involve implanting genetically modified embryos into women, and raise serious ethical questions.

The techniques involve intervening in the fertilisation process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can cause inherited conditions such as fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.

They are designed to help families with mitochondrial diseases – incurable conditions passed down the maternal line that affect around one in 6,500 children worldwide. Mitochondria act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells,

The controversial potential treatment is known as three-parent in vitro fertilisation (IVF) because the offspring would have genes from a mother, a father and from a female donor.

After a national public consultation showed Britons broadly favour the idea, the government’s chief physician said today it should be allowed to go ahead under strict regulation.

“Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their children inheriting them,” Sally Davies, chief medical officer, told reporters.

“It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”

Ms Davies said the government’s health department is drafting regulations to cover the new treatments, and plans to publish them later this year. The move would make Britain the first country in the world to give patients to option of using so-called mitochondrial DNA transfer to avoid passing the diseases on to their children.

DNA Swap: Scientists are researching several three-parent IVF techniques.

One being developed at Britain’s Newcastle University, known as pronuclear transfer, swaps DNA between two fertilised human eggs. Another, called maternal spindle transfer, swaps material between the mother’s egg and a donor egg before fertilisation.

A British medical ethics panel which reviewed the potential treatments for mitochondrial diseases decided last year they were ethical and should go ahead as long as research shows they are likely to be safe and effective.

Because Britain is in the vanguard of this research, ethical concerns, political decisions and scientific advances here are closely watched around the world – particularly in the United States where scientists are also working on DNA swap techniques.

Some pro-life campaigners have criticised the scientific research, saying that creating embryonic children in a lab abuses them by subjecting them to unnatural processes.

Critics also worry that modifying embryos to avoid disease could be the first step towards the creation of “designer babies”, whose genetic makeup could be modified as embryos to ensure certain traits such as height or hair colour.

Asked whether she was “comfortable” with taking such a major step along the way to allowing human genetic modification, Ms Davies said she had debated and considered the ethical implications with many experts over many years and had come to the conclusion the techniques should be allowed.

Any final decision on putting the regulations in place to allow the new treatments to be offered will be subject to a vote in parliament, but Ms Davies said she hoped the first patients may be able to get the new treatments within the next two years.

The consumption of fish oils can reduce your risk of Breast Cancer


 Consuming fish oils can significantly lower a person’s risk of developing breast cancer, according to a new study published in the BMJ.

The researchers reviewed 21 different independent prospective cohort studies, they found that a high intake of fish and marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was associated with a 14 percent reduced risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a form of cancer that develops from breast cells. It is one of the most common cancers, responsible for nearly a quarter of all cancer cases and 14% of cancer deaths in 2008. More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Lifestyle and diet play a very important role in preventing the cancer from developing.

For people to actually reduce their risk they should consume at least 1-2 portions of oily fish per week – such as sardines, salmon, tuna.

n-3 PUFAs are all omega 3 essential fatty acids that have to be acquired through diet – as they cannot be produced in the body. n-3 PUFAs include: α-Linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

These acids play a vital role in the brain’s chemical messaging and regulation of blood.

Oily fish provide EPA, DPA and DHA, and nuts and leafy green vegetables provide ALA.

Even though n-3 PUFAs were previously found to have positive effects on cancer risk, results from previous human studies have varied significantly.

A diet rich in oily fish can reduce your risk of breast cancer.

In order to find out whether n-3 PUFAs have anti-cancer properties, a team of Chinese researchers set out to assess the link between fish and n-3 PUFA intake and the risk of breast cancer, by reviewing and analyzing the results of 26 different international studies.

The team analyzed data on approximately 800,000 participants and more than 20,000 cases of breast cancer.

Comparing the lowest and highest category of marine n-3 PUFA intake, the investigators identified that high Marine n-3 PUFA intake was associated with a 14 percent reduced risk of breast cancer.

In addition, for every 0.1 g per day increase in the consumption of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) from fish, the risk of breast cancer decreased by 5 percent.

However, the plant based n-3 PUFA “ALA” seemed to have no anti-cancer properties.

The authors said that their finding “supports a protective role of marine n-3 PUFA on the incidence of breast cancer.”

They concluded:

“Our present study provides solid and robust evidence that marine n-3 PUFA are inversely associated with risk of breast cancer. The protective effect of fish or individual n-3 PUFA warrants further investigation of prospective studies.”

A report in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, similarly found that fish oil supplements may play a role in preventing breast cancer.

Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as their metabolite products have also been shown to slow the growth of triple-negative breast cancer cells better than cells from luminal types of cancer, according to research presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2013.

Dublin Zoo introduces two new baby mangabey’s


Mothers Monifa and Malull with ‘dominant male Danzo and their new babies Awiane and Jomoro at the African Plains enclosure

It is monkey mania at Dublin Zoo. The Phoenix Park baby boom continues as two white-crowned mangabey’s are born.

Brother and sister Jomoro and Awiane were born within two weeks of each other in April, to dominant male Danzo and respective mothers Mallul and Monifa, after five-and-a-half month pregnancies.

Speaking to the Herald, African Plains headkeeper Helen Clarke-Bennet couldn’t hide her delight at being able to show the baby monkeys to the world.

“We’re delighted with the arrival, we’ve done really well with these elegant little guys over the last few years,” she said.

“They don’t normally breed well and we’re down to a second generation with them here so it’s just fantastic.”

The last 12 months has seen a bumper baby year for the zoo. A newborn white-faced saki monkey was welcomed in April as well as the arrival of Jabari, a white rhinoceros calf.

In late 2012, the zoo welcomed baby red pandas, meerkat pups and a newborn Brazilian tapir calf.

Russian Urals region meteor shock wave rippled around the Earth twice


When a meteor slammed into the atmosphere over the Russian Urals region on Feb. 15, 2013, the huge quantity of energy released was encapsulated in a powerful shock wave that blasted the city of Chelyabinsk, causing property damage and inflicting over 1,500 injuries.

Now, after analysis of data gathered by global detectors used to detect ultra-low frequency acoustic waves, scientists have revealed that the meteor’s shock wave traveled all the way around the globe, twice.

The International Monitoring System (IMS) network operated by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is used to detect infrasound evidence of nuclear tests, but on that February morning, the network detected the most powerful event it had ever seen. But this signal wasn’t a nuclear weapon, it was a high-speed, 10,000 ton chunk of space rock carrying out a surprise attack on Russia.

“For the first time since the establishment of the IMS infrasound network, multiple arrivals involving waves that traveled twice round the globe have been clearly identified,” writes Alexis Le Pichon, scientist of the Atomic Energy Commission, France, and his team in a paper that has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Le Pichon’s team used data from 20 IMS stations around the globe to estimate the energy of the Chelyabinsk event: “A preliminary estimate of the explosive energy using empirical period-yield scaling relations gives a value of 460 kilotons of TNT equivalent,” they add. This means the Russia meteor delivered an equivalent energy of nearly 30 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs in the skies over Chelyabinsk.

This IMS estimate confirms that this meteor strike is the largest impact since the 1908 Tunguska event that flattened 80 million trees over an area of 2,150 square kilometers (830 square miles). That event, however, is estimated to have delivered 10-15 megatons of TNT equivalent to the atmosphere, generating an immensely powerful shock wave that caused chaos over a wide and, fortunately, sparsely populated area.

The Russian meteor quickly brought attention to the number of small asteroids that are out there, capable of remaining undetected (the Russian meteor was only 17 meters wide) and yet still deliver a shocking punch to a populated region.


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