News Ireland daily news BLOG Wednesday

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

Five Irish banks included in an ECB stress test scrutiny


Bank of Ireland, AIB, Ulster Bank Ireland, Permanent TSB and Merrill Lynch International Bank included.

The European Central Bank has outlined today how it plans to scrutinise top euro zone lenders before becoming their supervisor in a new role that puts its credibility on the line.

Irish institutions to be tested include Bank of Ireland, AIB, Ulster Bank Ireland, Permanent TSB and Merrill Lynch International Bank, which has its headquarters here, as well as the Central Bank.

The ECB wants to unearth potential risks hidden in balance sheets before supervision is centralised under its roof from November 2014 as part of a European banking union drawn up in response to a debt crisis exacerbated by massive bad property loans in countries like Ireland and Spain.

Setting out its plans to scrutinise the 128 top euro zone lenders, the ECB said it would use tougher new measures set out by Europe’s top regulator – the European Banking Authority (EBA) – in the asset quality review it will conduct next year.

“A single comprehensive assessment, uniformly applied to all significant banks, accounting for about 85pc of the euro area banking system, is an important step forward for Europe and for the future of the euro area economy,” ECB President Mario Draghi said.

“We expect that this assessment will strengthen private sector confidence in the soundness of euro area banks and in the quality of their balance sheets,” he said.

The ECB said it would conclude its assessment in October 2014, before assuming its supervisory tasks in November although some policymakers have suggested that timing could slip.

If capital shortfalls are identified, banks will be required to make up for them, the ECB said. Draghi has said a “public backstop” must also be available.

A provisional list of banks to be reviewed includes 24 German banks, 16 in Spain, 15 in Italy, 13 in France, seven in the Netherlands, five in Ireland and four each in Greece, Cyprus and Portugal.

The Bundesbank and Bafin, which in Germany share banking supervision, said German banks were “already intensively preparing for the comprehensive assessment”.

Detailing the measures it will use in its review, the ECB said it would use the EBA’s definition which says bank loans more than 90 days overdue are non-performing.

It will ask banks in its balance sheet review for an 8pc capital buffer. The buffer could have been higher but may still prove a challenge to some banks as they reshuffle their balance sheets to make them crisis-proof.

An asset quality review will look at “sovereign and institutional holdings and corporate and retail exposures, and both the banking and trading books will be reviewed”.

The Bundesbank has pushed to reflect the varying degrees of risk attached to bonds issued by different governments.

“We are all waiting to see whether Germany has got on top of its rumoured problems in the banking sector,” said Sharon Bowles, who chairs the influential committee in the European Parliament that shapes economic and financial policy.

“It seems clear that banking union has not disconnected banks from sovereigns. Bank disclosures over sovereign holdings will make that even clearer,” she told Reuters.


The ECB wants a tough review so that it does not face surprises once it has taken charge, and to avoid repeating the mistakes of two earlier European-wide stress tests that failed to spot risks that led to the Irish and Spanish banking crises.

Wary of a lopsided banking union that could see it supervise euro zone banks without a common backstop in place, it has urged governments to agree on a strong single resolution mechanism (SRM) to salvage or wind down banks in trouble.

However, this second stage of the planned union is incomplete as politicians discuss how much of the costs should be shouldered by taxpayers. Plans for a third stage, a common insurance scheme, have stalled.

“For the success of the exercise, the ex ante availability of backstops is critical,” the ECB said, adding that capital shortfalls should be first and foremost made up with private sources of capital.

A Morgan Stanley survey of investors this month showed between five and 10 of the banks to be tested by the ECB are expected to fail the tests and could be forced to raise up to €50bn to bolster their capital.

However, some banks may be unable to raise capital on their own and the euro zone crisis has shown that sometimes even national governments cannot afford to stage rescues. In addition to Ireland, Spain – the bloc’s fourth biggest economy – had to take international help to tackle its banking problems.

Some ECB policymakers feel uncomfortable taking on the extra responsibility and have suggested spinning off bank supervision into a separate institution over the long term. But such a step would require a change of the EU treaty, which might take years.

Higher than expected deposits of gold identified in Irish border counties


That is Monaghan, Cavan, Armagh, Tyrone, Donegal and Sligo identified in the two announcements

Prof Conroy said there was a million ounces of gold in the Border areas between Monaghan and Armagh.

The stony grey soil of Monaghan as lamented by Patrick Kavanagh may be about to yield considerable quantities of gold.

Two announcements have brought the prospect of gold mining to the Border area a step closer.

Conroy Gold and Natural Resources PLC, a company which has been prospecting around the Clontibret area of Co Monaghan, says a technique called Biox, which can separate and isolate gold from the sulphur in the rocks, managed to yield between 87.1 per cent and 90.4 per cent of the recoverable gold.

Viable prospect 
The results mean that the prospect of a gold mine yielding 50,000 ounces of gold a year or €70 million worth of ore is now a viable prospect, according to Prof Patrick Conroy, the chairman and founder of the company.

“It shows that the process is viable and now we can go ahead with doing the rest of the work that the technical people have to do so we can submit an application  for planning permission and a mining permit,” he said, adding that a gold mine may be up and running in the area by the end of 2016.

Prof Conroy said there was a million ounces of gold in the Border areas between Monaghan and Armagh. “We were told as children that Ireland had no natural resources, but we have enough gold to become a significant producer for decades to come.”

Separately, the Government’s Tellus Border Project announced the results of a comprehensive geologicalsurvey  of the Border area which found gold, not only in Clontibret and in Glentogher and Glencolumbkille in CoDonegal, but near Kingscourt on the Monaghan-Cavanborder, Carrickmacross in Co Monaghan, Killeshandra in Co Cavan, Easky in Co Sligo and several areas of the Inishowen peninsula, and Termon in Co Donegal.

Minister of State for Natural Resources Fergus O’Dowd said the developments had the potential to bring considerable employment to rural areas and the preliminary results which were made available in February had already attracted €1 million worth of investment.

He pointed out that a similar survey  in the North which found promising gold reserves has led to €32 million of investment and Ireland’s first gold mine for 2,000 years at Cavanacaw near Omagh.

Prince George christened at Chapel Royal in London


The christening of Prince George has taken place in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace in London.

The prince, third in line to the throne, was baptised by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The christening was private , with only senior royals, four members of the Middleton family, the seven godparents and their spouses among the 22 guests.

Prince George, son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge , was born in London on 22 July.

The duchess carried her newly christened son out of the chapel after the ceremony, and the guests then left for tea hosted by the Prince of Wales at Clarence House.

Attending a reception at Buckingham Palace after the event, the Queen told guests how much she had enjoyed the ceremony.

“It was very nice though, wasn’t it?” she told the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, at the event for the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

Godparents revealed

For three royals who represent the future of the British monarchy – and who will increasingly live much of their lives on a very public stage – this was a private and intimate affair.

Before it began, there was an opportunity to see Prince George for only the second time in his brief life.

He looked understandably plumper and peaceful. Prince William appeared relieved that his son, who in his words, has “a voice to match any lion’s roar” was in a docile mood.

There were just 22 guests gathered inside the Chapel Royal including the godparents.

The choice of two of them is particularly striking.

Julia Samuel was a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales. And William’s former aide Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton has played a pivotal role as the future king has developed as a senior royal.

The godparents, announced earlier, are Oliver Baker, Emilia Jardine-Paterson, Earl Grosvenor, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, Julia Samuel, William van Cutsem and Zara Tindall.

Mrs Tindall, wife of former England rugby player Mike Tindall, is Prince William’s cousin, while the other six godparents are all friends of the royal couple.

Prince George was baptised in a replica of the lace and satin christening gown made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, the Princess Royal, in 1841.

The duke and duchess chose two hymns, two lessons and two anthems for the christening.

The hymns were Breathe on Me, Breath of God and Be Thou My Vision.

Lessons from St Luke and St John were read by Pippa Middleton and Prince Harry, and the anthems were Blessed Jesu! Here we Stand and the Lord Bless You and Keep You.

The anthems were sung by the Choir of Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, which performed at the royal couple’s wedding.

After the ceremony, celebrity photographer Jason Bell  was expected to take a picture of the Queen and princes Charles, William and George together.

This will echo a 1894 picture from the christening of the future Edward VIII, showing him with his father, grandfather and great-grandmother – George V, Edward VII and Queen Victoria.

The HSE estimates a year-end deficit of €105m A report says


The report says 121,772 adults and children are waiting for day case or inpatient procedures

The Health Service Executive is reporting a current gross deficit of €93.7 million and estimating a year-end deficit of around €105 million.

This deficit figure could rise further, due to lower than expected savings in health under the Haddington Road Agreement and advance payments from private  health insurers not now expected until 2014.

According to a monthly performance report there are 45,155 adults and children waiting for day case or inpatient procedures.

A further 7,000 to 8,000 patients are waiting for a gastro-intestinal endoscopy.

The report shows that there are also 374,104 patients waiting to be seen for the first time by a consultant at an outpatient department.

Of these, 2,236 patients are waiting four years or more and over 84,000 are waiting for a year or more to be seen.

Under a recent policy, patients who do not attend an appointment will be contacted along with their GP and if there is no reply, the patient will be taken off the outpatient waiting list.

 The HSE says that waiting lists are falling.

The report shows that 86% of all adults are waiting less than eight months and 79% of all children less than 20 weeks for a day case or inpatient procedure .

The hospitals most heavily overspent are: St James’s in Dublin, at €10m over budget; St Vincent’s, €8.6m over; Galway University Hospital, €7.2m; Limerick Regional, €6.4m; and Cork University Hospital, at €6m over.

The HSE says the overspend at St Vincent’s is due to an extra 60 beds being opened to cope with the complexity of cases presenting at the Emergency Department.

The HSE Director General has written to all hospitals over budget asking them to bring their spending back into line before the end of the year.

There are now 75,020 people with a discretionary medical card or GP visit card – nearly 4,000 fewer than last year.

The HSE says some of these people will now have been given a full medical card or GP visit card.

Sligo is transformed to the 1930s for a new Ken Loach movie


New period piece from “Wind That Shakes the Barley” Director

One of the old cars from the 1930s used on the set of the new Ken Loach film “Jimmy’s Hall.”

For the past few weeks, the 1930’s period film “Jimmy’s Hall” about socialist Jimmy Gralton has been filming in Sligo.
The Independent quoted producer Rebecca O’Brien who said, “It’s a period piece. We needed some place we could dress up and that would be like 1932.”

Set in 1932, the film tells the story of Leitrim socialist Jimmy Gralton who was the only person deported for his views by the Irish government.

Ken Laoch directed some of the film’s final scenes last week. The film was shot at a number of locations in Sligo and Leitrim. A cattle drive scene was filmed at the Temple House near Ballymote. Other locations include Dromahair and the Methodist Church on Wine Street in Sligo.

For one of the actors, filming on location was just like coming home. Sligo native Conor McDermottroe stars in the film. Barry Ward plays the title role and Simone Kirby and “Sherlock’s” Andrew Scott play supporting roles.

The screenplay is by Loach and Paul Laverty who previously worked together on the period film “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” about the Irish Civil War. That film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006.

Born in 1886, Gralton emigrated to the United States and became a citizen  in 1909. He returned to Ireland to fight in the Irish War of Independence. He ran a dance hall where he would lecture about his political views at free events. His dance hall and opinions proved unpopular with several local groups, including conservative members of the Irish Republican Army who misinterpreted Gralton’s remarks as an attack on Christianity. Quoted in the Irish Examiner, University College Cork Donal O Drisceoil said, “Gralton was unfortunate. The reason it happened was that Gralton made lots of local enemies.”

An attempt to blow up Gralton’s hall up by landmine failed , but later shots rang out when people gathered for a dance. Gralton was arrested and deported to America on the basis that he was an alien. He lived the rest of his life in New York.

“Jimmy’s Hall” is expected to be released early summer 2014.

NASA aims 622 Mbps broadband laser at the moon 

Stick that up your Wi-Fi, mate 


NASA has successfully tested a broadband communications  system built into its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) probe, firing data to and from the Moon at rates of up to 622Mbps.

LADEE, launched last month (to the detriment of an unfortunate amphibian), houses a number of instruments designed to measure the state of the Moon’s scarce atmosphere while orbiting the space rock.

But it also has NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) built in, which is a series of lasers on the outer hull designed to shoot back data to three base stations here on Earth much faster than traditional radio data links – and the agency reports the first tests have been a roaring success.

“LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next  generation of space communication capability,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation (SCaN) in a statement.

“We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon.”

NASA has been facing the same problems with space communications  that bedevil us here on Earth – too much data and not enough bandwidth. Radio communications have been used ever since the agency first lofted objects into space, but it is stymied by limited spectrum and capacity.

The LLCD system uses lasers mounted on the outside of the LADEE probe to send back bytes to Earth, where base stations in the US and Spain can pick up its signals. These stations use pivoting 15cm telescopes to act as transmitters and four 40cm reflective telescopes as receivers.

Sadly the LLCD system won’t be up and running for much longer. After the LADEE probe has spent 100 days sampling the Moon’s atmosphere the craft will be sent on a kamikaze dive into the lunar regolith to avoid cluttering up the dusty globe’s orbital paths.

But by 2017 NASA hopes to launch its successor, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). This will put new hardware for the space communications system through its paces, and see how well it survives the long-term rigors of space travel to test if it would be suitable for probes going much further than the current relatively short distance of journeying to the Moon and back.

The LCRD will be capable of shifting 1.25Gbps of encoded traffic, or 2.88Gbps of uncoded data using laser equipment that is just four inches long and which uses considerably less power than a radio communications system. The mission will last two years and, if successful, will let a new generation of probes send back petabytes of information  about our neighbors in the Solar System


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