News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 19th November 2013

IRISH Pensioners in troubled schemes to face cuts under new law


Insolvent and restructured schemes to balance brunt of cuts between workers and retired members

The Government has approved a range of new proposals that it hopes can address potential problems arising in defined benefit pension schemes.

Under the Pensions (Amendment) Bill 2013, people actively paying into defined benefit schemes will be given a greater level of protection should the scheme be wound up or restructured. However, retired members earning above a certain threshold may no longer be entitled to their full payment if the scheme falls into difficulty.

At present if a scheme is restructured or wound up existing pensioners retain their full pension entitlements and whatever is left over, if anything, is divided up between the contributors who have yet to retire or those who have left a company but deferred their pensions until retirement age.

The Government has guaranteed to pay 100 per cent of existing pensions worth up to €12,000 annually.

In the event of both scheme and employer being deemed insolvent, members (both active and retired) who are entitled to more than €12,000 annually are to be protected up to 50 per cent of their entitlement.

The Department of Social Protection said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had approved the use of funds from the pension levy to pay the shortfall up to 50 per cent. The new proposals are modelled on changes applied to civil service pensions, the department said.

In the case of single insolvency (either the scheme or company being declared insolvent), retired members will no longer be given full priority and higher paid pensioners will contribute to improve the benefit of current workers.

Some 90 per cent of pensioners’ benefits of between €12,000 and €60,000 and 80 per cent of pensioners’ benefits above €60,000 will be guaranteed with the deduction distributed among those not already drawing the pension up to a level of 50 per cent.

There is no obligation on the employer or the State to meet the 50 per cent threshold in single insolvency cases.

In cases where he scheme is restructured, the 100 per cent priority for pensioners earning above €12,000 annually will be removed to ensure a fairer level of benefits for contributing members.

The legislation was approved by the Government today. It is to be published tomorrow, brought before the Oireachtasnext week and enacted by the end of the year.

The number of defined benefit schemes operating in the State has fallen from about 2,500 in the 1990s to 800 at present. About 40 per cent are regarded as being fully funded, compared to 80 per cent 10 years ago.

Between 80,000 and 85,000 people are currently paying into defined benefit schemes in the State at present. The State pension is not affected by the measures.

The current rules are particularly hard on workers who are close to retirement as they can be left with little or nothing and do not have time to build up a new pension entitlement.

The Bill also includes measures designed to prevent schemes from becoming severely underfunded.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the measures were about “fairness in the first instance” and ensuring workers receive a greater share of their pension benefits in the event of restructuring or insolvency of their scheme.

“The State could not be expected to solve employers’ funding problems given the financial implications it would have for taxpayers,” Ms Burton said.

“However, the State can intervene to ensure a fairer deal for workers and sufficient protection for pensioners while allowing employers to get to grips with their pension problems.”

The move to change the rules comes after an unprecedented call by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, employers’ group Ibec, the Irish Association of Pension Funds and the Society of Actuaries to change what is called the priority order in a wind-up.

Around 65,000 workers have been impacted by the closure of 400 defined benefit schemes since 2008, the three bodies said recently.

New Allied Irish Banks customer arrears service under way


Customers of AIB in mortgage arrears will be able to avail of a new service from today to help find a long-term solution to their financial problems.

The Irish Mortgage Holders’ Organisation (IMHO) and AIB Group hopes to help 1,000 customers find solutions to tackling their arrears in a six-month pilot project.

Those in difficulty will be provided by the IMHO with a designated contact person, who will help complete a standard financial statement (SFS), which is key to finding a suitable solution.

The help will be provided over the phone, online or in person. All advice will be supplied on a fully independent basis by the IMHO, and the information will be submitted to AIB for consideration and agreement of the next steps to be taken.

“This is an independent, professional, confidential and free service, an innovative approach to helping those in mortgage distress,” IMHO director David Hall (left) said. “While it is being grant aided by AIB Group, the service is independently provided, staffed and managed by IMHO.

“We are confident that we can successfully negotiate with AIB Group to find sustainable solutions for those who have so far been reluctant to engage with the banks up to now.

“We have been successful in concluding many agreements with AIB Group in the past year and we see no reason why this will not continue for the benefit of all concerned.”

The new code of conduct in mortgage arrears, which took effect in July, obliges banks to take action against borrowers who refuse to engage. It is hoped this scheme will encourage more people to address their problems.

Some 300 mortgage holders have already contacted the group seeking help.

Irish births fall 3% as baby boom appears to be over


We had a baby boom in the Irish recession but now the number of births in Ireland is on a downward spiral.

Statistics from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) show that the amount of babies born in this country fell further last year.

The most recent figures show that just 72,000 babies were born in 2012, down more than 3pc on 2011.

It has dropped from a high of 16.8 per 1,000 population in 2008 to 16.2 per 1,000 in 2011 and 15.6 per 1,000 in 2012.

EU AVERAGE: The EU average stands much lower at a rate of 10.4 per 1,000 population.

Despite this, Ireland’s birth rate remains the highest in Europe. But Irish women are officially putting off having babies later in life.

The average age of mums was just under 32 in 2012, compared to an average age of 30.6 years a decade ago.

ESRI Professor Miriam Wiley said the slowing in birth rates last year could be due to a number of factors such as choice and age of the mother.

“Birth rates go up and down in time of recession . . . the fact that we’re seeing the slight ageing suggests a postponement factor,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the rate of teenagers having babies has fallen with the number of women aged under 20 giving birth now down to 2pc compared to 5pc in 2003.

The number of babies born in Ireland has been declining since 2009 when 76,000 births were recorded.

Additionally, the mortality rate among babies in Ireland continues to decline. In 2012 it was just 5.9 per 1,000 live and still births.

This figure is significantly lower than 2003 which saw the figure at 8.6 per 1,000 live and still births.

The highest mortality rates were among babies born to mothers aged 40 to 44.

Breastfeeding levels remain low, with 40pc of babies being breast-fed compared to 75pc for babies born to mothers from Europe and America.

The UK follows Ireland with a rate of 12.8 per 1,000 and France at 12.6 followed by Sweden at 11.9 and Cyprus at 11.8.

Germany had the lowest birth rate in Europe last year at 8.4 per 1,000 population.

Some 48% of Irish people staying away from their dentist because of high costs


Nearly one in two people have not visited their dentist in the past year, according to a new survey.

The survey found that the main reason 48% of those questioned had not visited their dentist in the previous 12 months was the cost.

New research conducted by dental insurer DeCare Dental Insurance Ireland shows that three quarters (72%) of 35-44 year olds do not visit the dentist more often due to cost and over half (56%) of respondents avoid or delay dental treatment, also because of cost.

While the research demonstrated poor dental hygiene habits, the majority of people did recognise the significance of good dental hygiene.

Nearly nine out of 10 respondents thought that bad teeth would impact on their success in a job interview, while 90% of people said that unhealthy or unsightly teeth would put them off a new partner.

The cuts in tax relief and PRSI subsidies for dental care has led to a significant reduction in people attending the dentist, with one in four people claiming that they visit the dentist less now as a result, the survey found.

DeCare says there is growing interest in purchasing dental insurance that will subsidise or fully cover the cost of dental care.

The company has until now partnered with VHI to provide dental insurance, with DeCare providing the product, customer service and claims management, but now the company will for the first time offer its insurance product directly to the wider general public.

Ten important tips for you to fight fatigue


1 Don’t exercise right before bedtime – exercise is good for tiring the body but it will temporarily have the opposite effect of waking the body up just when it should be easing itself towards sleep.

2 Discipline yourself to leave technology outside the bedroom.

3 Keep your bedroom clutter free, dark and not too hot or cold – between 16C and 18C is the optimum temperature.

4 Swap late-night TV for meditation – set aside time to breathe and relax.

5 Don’t drink more than three cups of coffee a day.

6 Don’t eat high-fat foods before bed.

7 Don’t eat a big meal late at night.

8 Steer clear of booze – alcohol messes with your REM sleep, meaning you’re less likely to wake refreshed.

9 Breathe through your nose. Research shows nasal breathing quiets and slows the breath, helping to induce a state of relaxation. It also results in a deeper sleep compared to mouth breathing. See for more information.

10 Download the food pyramid ( A balanced diet helps promote a balanced life.

Twitter launches a ‘life-saving’ alerts system for emergencies and natural disasters


57 services have signed up, including Police forces, London Fire Brigade, the Foreign Office and the Environment Agency

A new Twitter Alerts system to highlight critical information in emergency situations has been rolled out across the UK and Ireland.

Police forces, London Fire Brigade, the Foreign Office and the Environment Agency are just some of the 57 services to sign up to the new system.

These organisations will now be able to mark certain tweets as alerts, by putting an orange bell next to them to stand out to followers.

It is designed to deliver information quickly and effectively in times of natural disasters or other emergencies.

Users who sign up for an account’s Twitter Alerts will also receive notifications via text, and smartphone users will get push notifications.

Commander David Martin, in charge of emergency planning for the Metropolitan Police Service, said: “Getting fast and accurate information to the public in a major incident or terrorist attack really could make a life-saving difference.

“Using social networking sites, including Twitter, gives us additional ways to talk directly to the public. Twitter Alerts means that our messages will stand out when it most matters.”

To subscribe, Twitter users should go to their chosen account’s alert setup page at[username]/alerts.

Twitter Alerts launched with other participating organisations in the US, Japan and Korea.

These have already been used by international organisations to send out information during emergencies involving public safety, accessibility and bad weather.

John Curtin, Head of Incident Management at the Environment Agency said: “Digital communications is enhancing the way we share warning information during an incident. During an incident such as flooding, we see significant spikes in related conversation.”

And Rita Dexter, Deputy Commissioner for the London Fire Brigade, said: “People act on information shared on social media. During a major incident accurate, verified and frequent updates are essential.”

*To receive Twitter Alerts as push notifications, you must be using Twitter for iPhone version 5.10 or higher, and Twitter for Android 4.1.6 or higher.

200 year old deep sea oysters found in deep Irish waters

200 year old sea oysters  

The discovery was made half a mile below the surface of the ocean

Scientists in the Republic of Ireland have discovered a colony of 200-year-old oysters half a mile below the sea.

A research team from Galway was exploring off the south west coast of Ireland when it made the discovery.

The team was using a small, remotely controlled vehicle to explore an area known as the Whittard Canyon, which spans UK, Irish and French waters.

They discovered a rock-face half a mile deep that was covered in molluscs and coral.

It is thought that the oysters can survive at such great depth because food is being channelled to the area by strong currents caused by the shape of the canyon.

“These are remarkably large, and we know that deep-water oysters of these size elsewhere in European seas may be more than 200 years old. So we are probably seeing an exceptionally long-lived and stable community,” said Mark Johnson, Professor of Marine Environment at NUI Galway.

This type of discovery is possible due to the development of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that are able to travel to a depth of 3,000m below sea level.

The team from the Ryan Institute at the National University of Ireland in Galway have made further plans to explore the area in the coming months.


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