News Ireland daily news BLOG Thursday

Thursday 31st October 2013

Irish banks now hold some 120,754 mortgages in arrears


Department says term extensions most regular solution to issues

A ’for sale’ sign is seen outside a housing estate in Keshcarrigan in County Leitrim. The Department of Finance said today that Irish banks have negotiated with consumers to restructure 71,086 mortgages of which more than half, 41,236, have been permanently restructured.

An extension to the mortgage term is the most popular permanent solution offered by Irish banks to those seeking to restructure their loans, new figures from the Department of Finance show.The figures made available at briefing today show that of the 1.9 million principle private dwellings in Ireland, 699,764 of these are currently under mortgage to the six main banks.While the vast majority, 83 per cent, or 579,010 of these mortgages were performing and not in arrears, 17 per cent or 120,754 were in arrears of more than one day.

Irish banks have negotiated with consumers to restructure 71,086 mortgages of which more than half, 41,236, have been permanently restructured, the figures show.

The figures are part of a new monthly report to be published by the Department of Finance, highlighting restructuring arrangements offered by AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, ACC, KBC Ireland and Ulster Bank.

Of mortgages in arrears of more than 90 days, 24.7 per cent (20,414) had been restructured while 75.3 per cent or 62,210 had not.

Of those mortgages permanently restructured by the six banks, term extension was the most popular solution offered benefiting 14,230 consumers. Interest only for a period was offered to 9,046 mortgage holders while split mortgages were given to just 2,521 consumers.

The most common temporary mortgage solution offered by banks was interest only for a period at 13,172 mortgages.

The Department of Finance said the figures were “an indication that the banks are beginning to get their arms round the problem”.

A spokesman said he hoped the figures would encourage those in arrears to engage with their bank. “These figures should give borrowers a sense that there are solutions available.”

The monthly figures should “show a switch from temporary to more permanent solutions overtime”, he said

Ryanair adds new routes of Netherlands, Scotland and Lithuania to Knock traffic


The budget airline said it hopes to announce further new route and traffic growth plans in the coming weeks.

Passengers will be able to fly from Ireland West Airport in Knock with Ryanair to Eindhoven (the Netherlands), Glasgow Prestwick (Scotland) and Kaunas (Lithuania) from April 2014.

There will also be increased frequencies on its London route, and it says the changes will deliver an additional 80,000 passengers per year and support 80 new on-site jobs at Knock.

Ryanair said that this growth is part of the one million extra passengers per annum that the airline will deliver at the main Irish airports in its “direct response to the Irish Government’s decision to scrap the €3 travel tax from April 2014″.

As well as the three new routes, passengers will benefit from increased frequency on the Knock to London routes, from 16 to 18 flights per week.

Ryanair said it is finalising its discussions with the Cork, Dublin and Kerry airports on growth plans for summer 2014.

Ryanair’s Michael Cawley said that the company hopes to announce further new route and traffic growth plans over the coming weeks.

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, said that the flights are “a real boost to the Wild Atlantic Way, the west coast tourism route which will be fully up and running next year”.

The news was also welcomed by Tourism Ireland, which said that it is “wonderful news” for tourism to Mayo and the West of Ireland.

HSE have now removed 45,000 medical cards from Irish people

HSE announces communications campaign to raise awareness of the rules for eligibility

Minister for Health James Reilly orders communications campaign following weeks of controversy over medical cards.
More than 45,000 people have had their medical cards removed following the biggest ever review of eligibility conducted by the Health Services Executive, it has emerged.

The status of 428,000 cards has been reviewed so far this year, resulting in almost 10,000 people who were found to be ineligible, while 35,733 did not respond or provide sufficient information. A further 4,000 cardholders were found to be deceased.

However, HSE officials insisted yesterday there was no Government policy or direction to slow down the issuing of medical cards and that officials assessing applications for cards continue to “try to push people over the line” where discretion comes into play.

The HSE yesterday announced a communications campaigned designed to raise awareness of the rules governing eligibility for medical cards. The campaign, costing €150,000, was ordered by Minister for Health James Reilly following weeks of controversy over the withdrawal or refusal of cards for seriously-ill patients.

Call centre
The HSE’s plan includes extra resources for the national call centre dealing with medical card enquiries, media advertisements, a new information leaflet, improved support on the HSE website and more training for front line staff . Officials say greater efforts are being made to use plain English in communications and to apply “greater sensitivity” in communications with the public. More engagement with groups such as the Irish Cancer Society and Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association is planned.

Officials emphasised that the guidelines for assessing eligibility have not altered since two changes were made in the previous budget over a year ago. The processing of applications was centralised to a centre in Finglas in 2011, where decisions to grant a card on discretionary grounds are made by a team of 13 doctors who assess the financial impact of a person’s condition on their family.
Palliative care
For patients in palliative care, cards are issued where a person’s condition is terminal and he or she is not expected to survive for more than six months. In situations where the applicant does live longer, the card is renewed, an official clarified yesterday.

Dr Reilly welcomed the campaign to provide more information on the issue of medical card eligibility. He insisted there has been no slowing down in the issuing of medical cards, although he accepted there had been “teething problems” associated with the centralisation of the processing of applications.

Sligo to get a boost from El Salvador B Braun connection

 Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello with Rafael Amaya, managing director of B Braun’s subsidiary in El Salvador.

B Braun subsidiary plans to bump up sales of medical products made in Sligo

A distributor in El Salvador of medical products that are manufactured in Sligo is aiming to achieve a 20-fold increase in sales of the products in Central America and the Caribbean.

The San Salvador subsidiary of B Braun, a large German medical and pharmaceutical company, sells bandages and other products used to treat wounds. The products are developed and manufactured at Collooney in Co Sligo.

At the centre of a distribution network covering 10 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean area, the Salvadoran B Braun records sales of €11 million across all divisions of healthcare products produced by the German healthcare giant but aims to increase this to €25 million in 2015.

Buying from Sligo
The company buys €300,000 worth of products made in Sligo, distributed through Germany, but it will look to grow this to €5 million by selling into other markets in the region.

“We are increasing good relations and we believe that we will grow 20 times in five years the size of the Irish business in the whole region,” said Rafael Amaya, the managing director of the Salvadoran company.

“We know we can replicate this model in every single country of Central America and the Caribbean.”

Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello, a native of Sligo, visited the company during President Michael D Higgins’s Latin American tour of Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

At the company on Saturday, Mr Costello said exports played a key role in Ireland’s economic recovery and exploring and opening up new markets in Latin America were important.

On the 12-day tour of Central America, the junior minister has been promoting Ireland as a “stepping stone” for Latin American companies looking to sell into Europe while also trying to establish links for Irish products to be exported into Latin America.

Describing B Braun’s Salvadoran distribution centre as a “gateway for Irish products” into Central America and the Caribbean, he said that the business is “enormously valuable” for the Sligo operation.

“It is a feather in the cap for Ireland . . . there are 1,200 Irish employees in Sligo producing this product, which is a world-class product,” he said.

The Sligo company was established as Hospicare in 1984 before being acquired 10 years later by B Braun, which has annual sales of about $5 billion (€3.7 billion) and 49,000 employees in 72 countries.

Among the company’s products is a silver alginate wound dressing, which heals wounds twice as fast as other dressings, while the antibacterial properties of the silver prevents infection.

New products
The Sligo business includes a research division that develops new products for the company.

Trade in goods and services between Ireland and El Salvador amounted to just over €27 million last year, largely comprising infant foods. Computer parts are also exported from Ireland to El Salvador.

Digicel, the telecoms company owned by Irish businessman Denis O’Brien, is the second- largest mobile phone operator in the country.

Irish Aid provided more than €7 million in El Salvador between 2003 and 2012 through a fund managed by the Salvadoran ministry of foreign affairs, to support development work by community groups.

Irish residential homes will now face inspections


Irish residential homes for people with an intellectual disability are to be subjected to inspection for the first time to ensure they are meeting standards of care and safety.

The inspections, which can be announced or unannounced, will be carried out from the beginning of next month by newly recruited inspectors at the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

There have been concerns about quality of care in some homes and the lack of scrutiny to detect or prevent abuse.

Announcing the inspections, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability Kathleen Lynch said the aim would be to go “softly softly” and encourage improvements for the first two years, but any serious health and safety concerns would have to be dealt with immediately.

Astronomers discover new earth like planet called Keppler78b

but it’s very very hot


Astronomers described it on Wednesday as the first Earth-size planet that seems to be made of the same mixture of rock and iron as Earth, and that orbits a star similar to our sun.

But Kepler 78b would not be a pleasant place to visit. It whirls around its parent star, Kepler 78, at a distance of less than a million miles, and its year — the time it takes to complete one orbit — is just eight and a half hours. (By contrast, Earth is 93 million miles from the sun and, of course, completes its yearly orbit in a little over 365 days.)

At that close proximity, the surface of Kepler 78b is infernally hot: 3,500 to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or “well above the temperature where rock melts,” said Andrew W. Howard, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of one of two papers being published in the journal Nature. “This is probably one of the most hellish planets that have been discovered yet.”

Viewed from the surface of Kepler 78b, its star would cover 80 times more of the sky than the sun does in Earth’s sky.

“It’s certainly not a habitable planet,” said Francesco Pepe, a professor of astronomy at the University of Geneva and the lead author of the other Nature paper. Kepler 78b is the newest addition to the pantheon of oddball planets in the Milky Way. The first planet discovered around another sunlike star turned out to be about the size of Jupiter, but orbiting its star at what seemed to be an impossibly close orbit. Other discoveries over the years include a fluffy planet with a density less than that of cork and a planet blacker than coal. “Exoplanets are just surprising us with their diversity,” said Dimitar D. Sasselov, a professor of astronomy at Harvard and a member of Dr. Pepe’s team, using the name for planets outside our solar system.

Kepler 78b is one of more than 150 planets spotted by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which noted the dimming of the starlight when a planet passed in front.

Those findings were published in August. But while Kepler can determine exoplanets’ size and orbit, it cannot measure their mass. For that, two teams of astronomers looked at Kepler 78b star from Earth. Dr. Howard’s team used the Keck 1 telescope in Hawaii; Dr. Pepe’s team used a telescope in the Canary Islands. They could not directly see the planet, but they could spot undulations in the frequency of light from the star caused by the gravitational pull of the planet. The heavier the planet, the larger the swings in frequency.

The teams coordinated their work, agreeing to publish their results at the same time, but they did not collaborate. They decided that they would not exchange their data and answers until their papers were almost complete so that each would serve as an independent check on the other.

In the end, the two teams came up with nearly identical answers. The density of Kepler 78b is 0.2 pounds per cubic inch, the same as Earth’s, suggesting that the two planets’ makeup is very similar — an iron core with rocky, if melted, outer layers.

“It’s the first really well measured Earthlike composition for a rocky extrasolar planet,” said L. Drake Deming, a professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland who was not a member of either team but wrote an accompanying commentary for Nature. That astronomers have already found an Earthlike planet suggests that there should be others in cooler, more life-friendly orbits. “You can reasonably conclude from that that it’s not rare, because you’ve found it pretty easily,” he said.

That still leaves a mystery: how Kepler 78b got where it is. “Right now, we have no clue,” Dr. Sasselov said.

It could not have formed there, because the star as a youngster would have extended into its orbit. A near-miss with another planet could have flung it toward the star, but in that case its orbit would have been elliptical, not circular. Or it was nudged inward by the material that formed the planets.

Another possibility is that it was originally a gas giant like Saturn and that as the planet spiraled in toward the star, all of the gases were stripped away, leaving just the rocky core at the center.

“Right now, this scenario doesn’t work, either,” Dr. Sasselov said. “If you want me to choose out of four bad ones, that’s probably the one which seems least so.”

Scientists now understand why a dogs tail wags a certain way


Scientists have shed more light on how the movements of a dog’s tail are linked to its mood.

Earlier research had revealed that happy dogs wag their tails more to the right (from the dog’s point of view), while nervous dogs have a left-dominated swish.

But now scientists say that fellow canines can spot and respond to these subtle tail differences.

Prof Georgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist from the University of Trento, said: “It is very well known in humans that the left and right side of the brain are differently involved in stimuli that invokes positive or negative emotions.

“Here we attempted to look at it in other species.”

He added that just as in humans, for dogs the right side of the brain was responsible for left-handed movement and vice versa, and the two hemispheres played different roles in emotions.

Dogs on film

To find out more about how dogs react to the lop-sided tail wags of other dogs, the researchers monitored the animals as they watched films of other dogs.

  They measured the pets’ heart rates and analysed their behaviour.

Prof Vallortigara said: “We presented dogs with movies of dogs – either a naturalistic version or a silhouette to get rid of any other confounding issues, and we could doctor the movement of the tail and present the tail more to the left or right.”

When the animals saw an otherwise expressionless dog move its tail to the right (from the tail-wagging dog’s point of view), they stayed perfectly relaxed.

But when they spotted a tail veer predominantly to the left (again from the tail-swishing dog’s point of view), their heart rates picked up and they looked anxious.

Prof Vallortigara said he didn’t think that the dogs were intentionally communicating with each other through these movements.

Instead, he believes that they dogs have learned from experience what moves they should and shouldn’t feel worried about.

He said: “If you have several meetings with other dogs, and frequently their tail wagging one way is associated with a more friendly behaviour, and the right side is producing a less friendly behaviour, you respond on the basis of that experience.

The researchers say the findings could give owners, vets and trainers a better insight into their animal’s emotions.

Dog behaviour expert John Bradshaw, a visiting fellow at the University of Bristol’s school of veterinary science, said this was not the first study to examine whether left and right were important to canines.

Last year a team from the University of Lincoln found that dogs turn their heads to the left when looking at an aggressive dog and to the right when looking at a happy dog.

And in another research paper from the University of Victoria in Canada, he said: “Dogs were more likely to approach a robot dog when its ‘tail’ was made to wag left rather than right, rather than becoming anxious – the opposite way around to the [Italian] study.”

He said the differences could be because the dogs in the different studies were not fully interpreting the animals in the films or robo-dogs as canines. A study of how dogs responded to real dogs could help, he explained.

“While there is considerable evidence from many different mammals that the two sides of the brain are used for different purposes, much of the detail still has to be hammered out – and dogs are no exception,” he said.

“However, given the ease with which their behaviour can be recorded, it will probably not be long before we understand why their tails sometimes go one way, sometimes the other.”


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