News Ireland daily BLOG on Friday

Friday 25th October 2013

Calls for protection of environment to be included in Irish Constitution

 

Local government and economy on agenda for first regional meeting of convention in Cork

Former Green Party TD Dan Boyle said he would like to see a proper recognition of local government in the Constitution.

Protection of the environment should be enshrined in the Irish constitution as happens in many other European countries, the first of a series of regional meetings of the Convention on the Constitution heard in Cork last night.Around 100 people attended the meeting at UCC where they heard speakers from the floor raise a wide range of issues which they believed should be included in any series recommendations made by the Convention on the Constitution in a report to be sent to the Oireachtas.Bernie Connolly of the Cork Environmental Forum said that Ireland was one of only six European countries which did not recognise the rights of the environment in its constitution and that was something that need to be rectified as a matter of urgency.

Dr Aine Ryall of the Faculty of Law at UCC echoed Ms Connolly’s views and said that Ireland had already subscribed to protecting the environment through a number of EU Conventions so enshrining protection of the environment in the constitution would not be problematic.

Former Green Party TD, Dan Boyle said he would like to see a proper recognition of local government in the constitution as although an amendment in 1996 ensure local elections must be held every five years, there was no clear definition of local government.

Mr Boyle’ s comments were echoed by Darren McAdam McConnell of the Cork Environmental Forum who also argued for a rebalancing of the constitution to ensure that property rights no longer take precedence to other basic human rights.

Leigh-Ann Maher, a member of Amnesty International also called for the enshrinement of basic social and economic rights in the constitution so that people are guaranteed a right to proper housing and a right to job.

Kevin Sheehan of Atheist Ireland said that as advocacy group, they were seeking the removal of all theistic, Christian and Roman Catholic references from the constitution which reflected its origins in the Catholic social thinking of the 1930s and was not suitable for 21st century Ireland.

Mr Sheehan said that it Atheist Ireland’s contention that a complete separation of church and state was the only way to properly and equally protect the holders of both theistic and atheistic philosophical beliefs and that should be reflected in constitution free of theistic references.

At the end of the night, participants voted on the particular issues that they wanted brought back to the 100 person Convention of the Constitution with the environment topping the list with 12 votes followed by local government and economic and social rights on 11 votes with separation of church and state on 9 votes.

Chairman of the Convention on the Constitution, Tom Arnold said the vote reflected what the convention had received in submissions before thanked the many participants in the debate for their spirited contributions and confirmed that the Convention would draw up a priority listing of issues for inclusion under “Any other Business” section in its report to government.

Last night’s meeting in Cork was the first of a series of eight public meetings held around the country by the Convention on the Constitution to hear views from members of the public on issues to be included on the agenda on the final module of the convention’s work programme.

The next regional meeting of the Convention on the Constitution is scheduled for NUI Galway on October 30th followed by one at Waterford City Hall on November 7th,Dublin City University on November 11th and the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin on November 13th

On November 19th, the Convention on the Constitution will meet at the Sligo Borough Council building and, the following day, November 20th, it will be at the RadissonHotel in Athlone before holding its last meeting atMonaghan Educational Campus on November 25th

Dublin Hospital chief warns on further health cuts

  

The outgoing Chief Executive of Dublin’s Tallaght Hospital has warned that unless hospital savings  measures are planned properly, they can be detrimental to patient care.

With the HSE now now telling hospitals to make additional savings measures to slash their budgets for the remainder of the year, Eilish Hardiman told irishhealth.com that hospitals needed to be able to plan properly in order to achieve savings.

“The more ‘knee-jerk’ measures are hardest to deliver”,  she said.

Tallaght Hospital,which has been beset by both patient safety and financial controversies in recent years, has managed to make €30 million in savings since 2011, which Ms Hardiman says, have not impacted on patient care.

The hospital, after many years of running up large deficits, was planning to break even on its 2013 budget at the end of the year, she said.

Ms Hardiman stressed that the HSE and Department of Health must address the fact that hospitals will not be getting any of the targeted income this year from new private patient charges, as these have been put on hold until 2014, and measures needed to be taken to address this.

Ms Hardiman, in an interview with irishhealth.com, said there had been significant improvements made in the hospital’s governance structures and financial management systems over the past two years. This followed a number of patient safety controversies and budgetary problems.

She defended the hospital’s policy of putting patients on trolleys onto wards during demand surges, in order to take pressure off Tallaght’s emergency department.

“This is a safer policy because it has been proven irrefutably that that overcrowded EDs are not safe places because you cannot physically monitor the patients, as there are too many.”

In the summer of 2011, HIQA ordered Tallaght so cease placing ED trolley patients on corridors, with the safety body highlighting serious patient safety issues with this practice. Coroner inquests at the time had linked the deaths of two patients to their being placed on corridors.

The hospital has since changed its ED escalation policy to one where patients are now placed on wards to avoid ED overcrowding. In recent months, on certain days Tallaght has one of the highest numbers of trolley patient on wards during demand surges compared to other hospitals.

Ms Hardiman will leave Tallaght Hospital next month to take up the post of CEO of the Children’s Hospital Group, charged with developing the new national paediatric hospital on the St James’s site. She has been with Tallaght since the autumn of 2011.

Since then, an action plan was agreed to ease the hospital’s serious financial problems. However, it took some time for the hospital to get its finances on track, even after it started extensive savings measures in 2011.

At one stage in 2012, the hospital had to ask the Department of Health and the HSE for assistance as it had simply run out of cash to pay wages and bills.

“We ran out of money – we weren’t going to have enough to pay staff, vendors etc so we needed a cash injection. We entered into an agreement whereby the Department and HSE wanted us to break even – because we were adding a million euro a month to our deficit.”

With financial management measures already having begun in late 2011, an overall sustainability plan for the hospital was eventually agreed in late 2012, with a commitment to reach financial breakeven on the hospital’s day to day spending by the end of 2013.

As a result of a number of measures taken since 2011, Tallaght will have made €30 million in savings by the end of this year. “We needed two years to achieve break-even as we felt felt it would be unsafe for patients to deliver anything in a shorter timeframe.”

The deficit is being cleared mainly by savings measures but also by increasing hospital income.

The Department of Health also agreed, as part of the budget plan, to clear €39 million of a €58 million ‘legacy deficit’ the hospital had built up through budget overruns migrating from one financial year to another over a number of years.

“Because they were satisfied we were achieving our trajectory and putting in financial controls, there was an acknowledgement that this was a legacy issue – we are now left with a legacy deficit of around €18 million, which is more palatable.”

Eilish Hardiman believes the savings measures the hospital has implemented to date have not impacted on patient care.

“We have reduced the number of delayed discharge patients whose acute care had ended but were awaiting alternative care – this equated to two full wards of patients. We have managed to keep delayed discharge numbers down by finding alternative accommodation for these patients

“We have been able to close a 31 bed ward and reduce our staffing complement in terms of of agency and temporary staff. We have also reduced our length of stay. The average length of stay was cut by a day last year and we are aiming for a further day this year.”

Ms Hardiman says the opening of an acute medical assessment unit has helped cut length of stay.

“Before this unit opened, 50% of medical patients presenting at the hospital would be admitted-this is now down to 40%.”

“Closing wards has not impacted on waiting lists. We achieved our targets last year. It is a little more difficult trying to do it this year but in general most of our specialties are compliant with waiting list targets despite them having been put back to eight months from nine. It’s about using the beds a little bit better, faster than quicker than before.”

“We have cut out all agency because of the excessive costs with fees on top of pay costs. This was mainly among clerical and nursing staff. Where temporary staff contracts expired we did not renew them. We also cut back on overtime.”

“Curbing staff costs has been tough, but I must acknowledge that staff have been tolerant of most of the changes that had to be brought in.”

On the relatively high number of trolley patients Tallaght has on wards on certain days, Ms Hardiman says managing bed demands for patients presenting at the ED and requiring admission is a fine balancing act.

“All it takes to tip the balance in the wrong direction is is for a huge number of admissions to come in during the night, or not many patients being discharged over a weekend.”

“Our ED is physically small and we are planning to extend it. From a patient safety perspective it is not safe to crowd an ED.”

“While we don’t want any patients on trolleys and it’s our objective to achieve that it has been proven to be safer to have some of these on the wards than having them in overcrowded conditions in the ED.”

“As much as possible our focus is on getting a quick patient turnaround; or seeing can we get their diagnostics/investigations done as outpatients or day cases, so we don’t have to use inpatient beds. We try to ‘ring-fence’ beds to particular specialties, thereby preventing doctors having to look for beds all over the hospital-what’s known as the ‘safari ward round’.”

“When trolleys are placed on wards, these tend to be the younger patients or people going for overnight or day surgery. We have criteria to keep this practice as safe as possible.”

With hospital finances already cut to the bone, does she think it feasible or the HSE to be looking for further savings from hospitals for the remainder of the year?

“There are always ways of making savings but at this stage savings cannot be quick ones; you need to plan to achieve some of these savings in order not to impact on services. We don’t want to be doing that.”

“The more ‘knee-jerk’ measures are hardest to deliver. We have a plan up to our year end and we understand that there will be further cost containment savings in 2014, so we are planning next year’s budget now with the HSE. The earlier you can start on planning savings the better, as opposed to trying to, for example, save a million within a month – it is not feasible to do that.”

Tallaght Hospital has had major problems in recent years with safety and financial issues, most of which were felt to be due to deficits in governance and administrative structures at hospital. Elish Hardiman says these have now been rectified.

“It is gratifying now to serve a board that has developed to the level it is now at. It is constantly probing how things are run and seeking assurances on the maintenance of quality and safety.”

However, despite things improving in the south-west Dublin hospital, it has had the disappointment of losing out on a number of key national specialties.

Firstly, it lost out on becoming a designated major cancer centre. Ms Hardiman, however, points out that while this may be the case, Tallaght still has a significant volume of cancer patients.

Tallaght also bid to become the site for the new national children’s hospital but lost out to St James’s.

While its paediatric unit (formerly Harcourt Street Hospital) will be closing when the new children’s hospital opens, Ms Hardiman feels Tallaght would be well-placed to become of the designated satellite paediatric centres for Dublin to work in tandem with the new hospital.

She accepts that it is unlikely that the previous plan to move the Coombe Hospital to the Tallaght site will now be acted upon, given that a new maternity unit is likely to be located on the site of the St James’s children’s hospital.

On leaving Tallaght, Eilish Hardiman is quick to pay tribute to hospital staff, who, she feels, have taken an unfair ‘bashing’ following the controversies of recent years.

“Overall, they can be proud of the service they deliver, especially given these straitened economic times.”

Patrick Joy of Suretank named EY Ireland Entrepreneur of the Year

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 finalists announced 

Winners  of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year From left to right, Kieran Fitzpatrick, CEO Barracudafx, Maurice Curran, COO Barracudafx and Dr. David Dobbin CBE, Chairman Intertrade Ireland

Louth-based firm is the world’s largest manufacturer of cargo-carrying units for offshore oil and gas industry

Patrick Joy of Louth-based manufacturer Suretank was last night named the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 at a gala awards ceremony held in Dublin.Headquartered in Dunleer, Suretank is the world’s largest manufacturer of cargo-carrying units for the offshore oil and gas industry. Holding a 62% global market share, it is also the leader in the transport tank industry. It employs 600 people and has revenues of more than €68 million.Mr Joy, the founder and chairman of Suretank, was presented with the Entrepreneur of the Year title by Mike McKerr of Ernst & Young.

“I’m absolutely flabbergasted. I must thank my employees at Suretank. Without them, the business would not be where it is today,” Mr Joy said upon receiving the award.

In a message to aspiring entrepreneurs, Mr Joy said: “You have to have ambition. You have to believe in yourself. No matter what you do in business, you’re going to have knockbacks.”

Speaking last night, Mr Joy said he could not have achieved the success he has without the belief in his business from his family and early stage investors, who included Pat O’Hare.
Best bet
“I worked for Pat in the late 1980s. He said to let him know if I was ever setting up a business, and so I did. He is a bookmaker from Newry and he said investing in my business was the best bet he ever placed.”

As for the future, Mr Joy said he was expecting fewer meetings and a slightly easier working day: “I’ve just taken over as chairman and taken on a CEO,” he said.

He beat competition from fellow finalists Brian Hogan of KSG and Kieran Fitzpatrick and Maurice Curran of Barracuda FX to be crowned overall winner. Mr Hogan won the award for Industry EY Entrepreneur of the Year while Kieran Fitzpatrick and Maurice Curran of Barracuda FX, were named as winners of the emerging category.

Earlier in the night, Mr Joy was named winner of the International category.

He will now go on to represent Ireland at the World Entrepreneur of the Year awards in Monte Carlo next June, where he will compete with more than 50 leading entrepreneurs from across the globe.

“An integral part of the Entrepreneur of the Year programme is to encourage entrepreneurs to think global and become global,” said Frank O’Keeffe, partner-in-charge of EY Entrepreneur of the Year.
Uncanny ability
“Suretank has scaled to become a market leader in the fiercely competitive offshore oil industry and has achieved this from their headquarters in Co Louth. Patrick’s big thinking and uncanny ability to compete and dominate in the global arena should serve as an inspiration to us all,” he added.

Denis Brosnan, founder and chairman of Kerry Group, meanwhile, received this year’s Special Award for his outstanding contributions to the development and progression of Ireland’s commercial, educational and artistic life.

Each year, the Special Award is presented to an individual who has “made a profound contribution to the island of Ireland”.

“The business founded by tonight’s recipient can boast manufacturing operations in 25 countries – with international sales offices in a further 20 countries,” said Mr O’Keeffe. “It employs 24,000 people. It sells in excess of 15,000 products in over 140 countries and, last year, its global sales approached €6 billion. But what’s most impressive – in the face of these stunning numbers – is that this entrepreneur has always known that community counts above all.”

EY awards programme – 16th year in Ireland

The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards is a global awards programme designed to recognise and support entrepreneurs.

While the programme runs in more than 50 countries, the event in Ireland, now in its 16th year, has been identified as one of the strongest in
the world.

The Irish Entrepreneur of the Year awards, which are open to participants across Ireland, is run in association with The Irish Times, Invest Northern Ireland, Inter Trade Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, RTÉ and Newstalk.

There are three categories – emerging, industry and international.

This year’s winners were selected from 24 finalists shortlisted by the judging panel.

Ranging from financial services and technology to agriculture and manufacturing, the finalists span a diverse range of sectors, collectively employing
over 6,000 people and generating revenue of over €1 billion.

The judges are business people who have achieved success in their own right. Criteria include growth in turnover and employee numbers, as well as vision, degree of innovation, creativity in production, marketing and selling and expansion in local and international markets.

Call for statutory code of conduct in Irish Grocery sector

  The Barry Group’s new chilled distribution solution represented a €1 million investment and delivers a wide variety of chilled products for the group’s retailers

The report recommends an independent Ombudsman to govern the relationship between food producers and supermarkets

The Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture Food and Marine has called for the introduction of a statutory code of conduct in the grocery sector.

It also wants an independent ombudsman to govern the relationship between food producers and supermarkets who buy their goods.

The recommendation comes following hearings the committee conducted on the subject earlier this year.

The report concludes that food producers are not getting fair treatment or fair prices for their goods.

It said large multiples and wholesalers appear to be exerting pressure on food processors who cut corners to make reasonable profits.

The report also found the rise of own brand goods has pushed down prices to consumers down, but allows retailers take greater profit margins.

Committee chairman Andrew Doyle said there was no need for consumers to end up paying more for their food purchases if the code was introduced.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Doyle said the recommendations were aimed at ensuring that there was transparency and equity between food producers, retailers and consumers.

He said that most people agreed that a code of practice was needed, but he said there was disagreement between stakeholders over whether it should be statutory and whether there should be an ombudsman dealing with the sector.

Elsewhere, the Director of Retail Ireland has said he believes customers stand to lose as a result of the statutory code of conduct.

Speaking on the same programme, Stephen Lynam said it is important to protect producers, but a statutory code would result in higher prices.

He said: “The committee and Deputy Doyle are right to try and protect farmers, but farmers aren’t benefitting from this.

“It is the often very large multinational suppliers, producers and wholesalers who actually benefit.

“The people who’ll lose are the customers and consumers at one end and farmers at the other.”

In a statement, retail group Musgraves said any code of practise should be developed on a voluntary basis.

“We have concerns that introducing a national statutory code would create an extra layer of administration for retailers who deal with Irish suppliers and may actually exacerbate the situation.”

Trips to Ireland up almost 8% by overseas visitors 

 

CSO figures show visits from North America up 13.6% in third quarter of 2013

Trips by overseas visitors in the third quarter were up almost 8%.

There were 164,300 more visits to Ireland from overseas in the third quarter of this year than in the same period last year – a rise of nearly 8 per cent.

Trips by residents of North America increased by 13.6 per cent to 415,000, overseas travel figures published by the Central Statistics Office show.

In the period from July to September, the total number of trips to Ireland was up by 7.8 per cent.

The number of trips by residents of European countries other than Britain was up by 1.2 per cent to 786,200 while trips to Ireland from other areas were up by 24.5 per cent to 155,000.

Visits by residents of Britain were up 9 per cent to 904,700, according to the CSO.

During the same quarter, the total number of overseas trips made by Irish residents increased by 1.5 per cent to 2,032,600.

In all, from January to September, the total number of trips to Ireland was up by 6.4 per cent to 5,405,700.

The total number of trips (trips by Irish residents abroad plus trips by overseas visitors to Ireland) in the third quarter increased by 4.7 per cent to 4,293,500.

This compares with an annual drop of 0.3 per cent in the total number of trips taken in the third quarter last year, compared to the same period the previous year.

2 major solar flares Friday (the second twice as intense as the first)

   

The sun shot out a pair of gigantic solar flares early Friday — the second one even bigger than the first, 

An X1-class solar flare occurred at about 1 a.m. PDT, followed by an even larger one about eight hours later.

“This one was an X2, twice as intense as the X1 that just occurred,” said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in an interview Friday morning.

News of the latest activity came as NASA released a spectacular video and image, see above, of a solar eruption in September, what the space agency termed a “canyon of fire.”

The video shows a 200,000-mile-long filament leaping from the atmosphere of the sun and creating a rippling, glowing canyon, which “traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion,” NASA says.

So what’s with all the activity?  Our home star is hitting solar maximum in its 11-year cycle activity, and scientists had predicted it would be meh — a wimpier maximum than in cycles past.

Now we have a canyon of fire and X-class solar flares. (X is the largest class of flare, as measured in X-ray wavelengths.)

“This is a little bit of a change this week, we’re seeing a quite active sun,” Murtagh said. “Three different sunspot clusters. … We were just down in the operations center looking at this. We can see this complex little magnetic structure on the sun that’s going to produce these kind of flares.”

The latest activity disrupted high-frequency radio communications, which Murtagh said is a given when there’s an X-class flare. But these flares, and the material they ejected from the sun, were not pointed at Earth. When such coronal mass ejections head toward Earth, that’s a bigger deal.

Such a geomagnetic storm could conjure the Northern Lights, as well as “affect power grids, cause airlines to reroute flights from polar regions,” Murtagh said.

The sunspot group that has been active Friday is rotating nearer the center of the sun, he noted. If the flares keep up, there could be more serious effects in store for Earth in the next three or four days.

Murtagh said that indeed this is the “lowest solar maximum since back in the 1900-1910 time frame.”  But that doesn’t mean that X-class flares and their attendant problems will not occur.

“These things are going to pop up, just less frequently,” he said. “You can’t get complacent.”

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