News Ireland daily BLOG Friday

Friday 29th November 2013

Concern over mortgage solutions offered to distressed Irish borrowers


Lenders meeting mortgage solution targets but Central Bank questions sustainability of proposals

The country’s main banks have met their targets for providing solutions to struggling mortgage holders, the Central Bank announced today.

However, it raised concerns about the sustainability of some solutions being offered to customers in mortgage distress.

Banks are required to propose solutions for 20 per cent of mortgages in arrears of more than 90 days by the end of June, rising to 30 per cent by the end of September.

According to an audit by the Central Bank, the county’s six main mortgage lenders – AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, Ulster Bank, ACC Bank and KBC Bank – made sufficient proposals to meet these targets, and in some cases exceeded them.

As part of the audit, the Central Bank said it examined processes of determining and proposing sustainable solutions in the banks against its own sustainability guidelines.

It said number of issues were identified which will need to be addressed if the solutions being proposed are to be sustainable in the long term.

Specifically, the Central Bank said short-term loan modifications were proposed in some cases where there was no tangible evidence of a borrower’s circumstances improving, or clarity on the ultimate long-term solution.

It also identified resolution proposals where there was “an absence of requisite information”, such as verification of borrower income or property value.

In other cases, it pinpointed the absence of “legal follow up” in cases categorised under a legal resolution heading on the banks’ books.

The issues, however, were not enough to result in any of the lenders failing to hit their targets, the Central Bank said.

The audit found that, as of the end of September, the six lenders had issued proposals to 43 per cent of mortgage accounts in arrears, exceeding the 30 per cent target required of them.

“We are now starting to see some signs of progress in addressing the significant issue of mortgage arrears,” director of credit institutions and insurance at the Central Bank, Fiona Muldoon, said.

“The audit process, while highlighting some key issues which require attention, shows evidence of long-term loan modifications being offered to borrowers who are no longer able to afford the original repayment requirements.”

“The latest data on mortgage arrears is also encouraging, with indications that the level of new arrears cases is declining and an emerging pattern of stabilisation in the numbers generally.”

“We expect that lenders will continue to progress and develop their approaches to ensure that future sustainability targets will be achieved. With indications the banks are now offering long term sustainable solutions to customers, the Central Bank continues to encourage meaningful engagement between lenders and borrowers.”

Charity donations not for ‘lavish salaries’ says Joan Burton


Minister for Social Protection Jon Burton says revelations about CRC ‘extremely disturbing’

Charitable donations should not be used to fund “lavish salaries”, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said.

Speaking at the Labour Party National Conference in Killarney tonight, Ms Burton said revelations about the use of donated funds to top-up salaries at the Central Remedial Clinic were “extremely disturbing”.

She said it was “very important” that the organisation came out and clarified the issues that have been disclosed so far.

Ms Burton said the CRC needed to provide details of its fundraising and additional sources of income and explain how that money is spent.

“What happens after that depends on what they have to tell us,” she said. “I think they need to produce full accounting details and records and information in relation to it. Where it is inappropriate I would hope to see them change or modify that practice.”

The organisation yesterday admitted that money raised by a charitable company had been used to top up the salaries of staff including its former chief executive.

Five senior staff at the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) are still in receipt of top-up payments.

The organisation’s then chief executive Paul Kiely, who was on a State salary of €106,900 prior to his retirement, received a further €136,000 supplemented by the clinic.

Ms Burton said the public needed assurances that their generous donations to charities were being used for the purpose they hoped when selecting a charity to give money to.

This was particularly important in the lead up to Christmas, which was an important fundraising period, she added.

“I’m sure there is a huge amount of concern about the revelations because charity donations are not meant to fund lavish salaries way in excess of what the Taoiseach of the country is earning.”

The Taoiseach receives a salary of €185,350 annually.

Earlier, Fundraising Ireland, an umbrella organisation for professional fundraisers including a number of well-known Irish charities, said its members’ were reporting people cancelling their charitable donations as a result of the top up revelations.

Chief executive Anne Hanniffy said the revelations were having a “disproportionate and unfair impact on the funding efforts of charities and critically, people reliant” on such charities

“This is concerning for hard-pressed organisations so openly reliant on public generosity and support,” she said.

“It is doubly concerning when the source of people’s frustration is an issue which has absolutely nothing to do with the way in which the vast majority of high quality not-for-profit organisations are funded and operated.”

She said Fundraising Ireland believed transparency, accountability and regulation were vital to any healthy institution: “We owe it to donors that their money goes where they expect it to go,” she said.

Ireland’s health care customers in a ‘vicious cycle of rising costs’

as GloHealth increases premiums


GloHealth policy price hikes to be introduced on December 31st

Health insurance provider GloHealth has announced that policy prices will go up by 5.2% from the end of the year.

In a statement, the company said continued increases in health insurance costs had resulted in a flow of young people out of the market.

Families with health insurance are caught in a vicious cycle of rising premiums, which rise as more people jettison cover, politicians were warned.

Jim Dowdall, chief executive of GloHealth, said various measures are creating a circle of rising premiums.

He said this was leading to increased cancellations, resulting in further premium increases.

“Recent measures by Government will add significantly to the price paid for health insurance and will acerbate the affordability issues faced by so many citizens,” he told an Oireachtas Health Committee.

“Also, if measures are not taken with urgency to encourage and retain younger, healthier members into the health insurance market, all that will remain of the market will be policies for the elite with both younger and old having been priced out of the market.”

He said the cost of a private room in a public hospital has doubled since 2005, the cost of a semi-private room in a public hospital has risen by more than 137pc in the same time period.

“Since the market contraction began in 2008 the cost of a private bed has increased by 38pc while the cost of a semi-private bed has increased by over 57pc.

“They illustrate the hollowness of the minister’s exertions to health insurers to cut costs when his decisions are the major driver of increased costs.”

Public hospitals can charge private patients in public beds €813 a night.

“Where previously only 20pc of beds were designated for private use in public hospitals now the hospital can charge for every bed, in effect, allowing for the privatisation of the whole public hospital system.

“The change will have the effect of giving a very clear financial incentives to public hospitals to treat private patients ahead of public patients.”

This will worsen the two-tier system within public hospitals, he predicted.

The committee also heard that people with private health cover would each cost insurers €700 more a year if a system of credits was not in place.

Liam Sloyan, chief executive of the Health Insurance Authority, said this was an estimate which applied for older people.

The government introduced a number of measures in Budget 2014 that will impact on the health insurance industry.

Among them was a proposal to increase the health insurance levy, a measure which health insurance providers said could drive up premia by as much as 15%.

It said this increase was ‘unavoidable.’

Superbugs’ antibiotic resistance now decoded

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Scientists have discovered the complex process by which antibiotic resistance allows bacteria to multiply in the presence of drugs. 

Many approaches are being employed to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria – such as limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock, controlling prescriptions of antibiotics and developing new drugs against bacteria already resistant to conventional drug treatments.

“Understanding how bacteria harbouring antibiotic resistance grow in the presence of antibiotics is critical for predicting the spread and evolution of drug resistance,” scientists from the University of California, San Diego said.

Researchers found that the expression of antibiotic resistance genes in strains of the model bacterium E coli depends on a complex relationship between the bacterial colony’s growth status and the effectiveness of the resistance mechanism.

“In the course of developing complete resistance to a drug, a strain of bacteria often first acquires a mechanism with very limited efficacy,” said Terry Hwa, a professor of physics and biology who headed the research effort.

The interaction between drug and drug-resistance is complex because the degree of drug resistance expressed in a bacterium depends on its state of growth, which in turn depends on the efficacy of drug, with the latter depending on the expression of drug resistance itself, according to Hwa.

For a class of common drugs, researchers realised that this chain of circular relations acted effectively to promote the efficacy of drug resistance for an intermediate range of drug doses.

In their experiments, E coli cells possessing varying degrees of resistance to an antibiotic were grown in carefully controlled environments kept at different drug doses in “microfluidic” devices.

Researchers found a range of drug doses for which genetically identical bacterial cells exhibited drastically different behaviours: while a substantial fraction of cells stopped growing despite carrying the resistance gene, other cells continued to grow at a high rate.

This phenomenon, called “growth bi-stability,” occurred as quantitatively predicted by the researchers’ mathematical models, in terms of both the dependence on the drug dose, which is set by the environment, and on the degree of drug resistance a strain possesses, which is set by the genetic makeup of the strain and is subject to change during evolution.

“Exposing this behaviour generates insight into the evolution of drug resistance. With this model we can chart how resistance is picked up and evaluate quantitatively the efficacy of a drug,” said Hwa.

Heartache as dolphins die after being washed up on Co Mayo beach


Almost all of 13 -strong pod died after following a sick dolphin ashore

Ten dolphins died despite a major rescue operation to save them.

This heartbreaking footage shows the desperate bid locals made to return the animals to the Atlantic Ocean after they were cut adrift.

The tragedy happened after experts reckon a 13-strong pod may have followed a sick relative into shore – and became trapped in the sand.

The sad scenes were filmed by wildlife cameraman Fergus Sweeney on the Mullet Peninsula in Mayo last Sunday.

The dad-of-one, 34, said: “At 4pm I got a call to say four had been washed ashore, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group said there were 13 common dolphins overall.

“Some were taken to deeper waters. I was one of the first on the beach and saw an adult dolphin beside an adolescent, and that scene was repeated further up the beach.

“That would indicate that the younger ones weren’t aware of the dangers of the shallow water.

“The other theory is that as they work in pods, when one gets sick, they all accompany them to the shoreline.”

Seven of the 13 animals in trouble managed to get back into deeper water themselves but local residents and members of the RNLI refloated the others.

But the following day, rescuers found a dead female dolphin at Elly beach.

Her young calf was in waters nearby but conservation ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Irene O’Brien, believes the animal later died without milk from its mum.

Ms O’Brien said: “The calf was not seen later that day but we think it would not have survived anyway as it was still dependent on milk from its mother, who had died.”

Later that day, another adult female and calf who were stranded in “very poor condition” were euthanized by animal experts.

On Wednesday, another four adults and two calves died.

Two of these dolphins and a calf had been refloated earlier in the day and died after getting beached again later that evening.

The IWDG (Irish Whale and Dolphin Group) have recorded a total of 34 live strandings from Co Mayo and 17 of these have been around the Mullet Peninsula.

Ms O’Brien said: “This is maybe the fourth such stranding here this year but this is definitely one of the biggest. No-one knows why they get stranded. Some think the dolphins follow the food into shallow waters and get into difficulty.

“In recent weeks, fishing has been great around here and fishermen have reported seeing hundreds of dolphins at sea.

“You could go two years without seeing any stranded dolphins and then you might have two or three instances a year.”

Irish bog bodies may have been victims of climate change


A BBC documentary says Irish high kings may have been killed to appease gods after bad harvests

The bog body in the Bord Na Mona Cashel Bog, in Co. Laois found by machine operator Jason Phelan in 2011. The body is estimated to be over 2000 years old , possibly that of a human sacrifice, found deposited in a leather bag.

He may have been among the first victims of climate change, sacrificed because of changing weather patterns 4,000 years ago.Cashel man, so named because of his discovery in a bog in Cashel, Co Laois in 2011, is the oldest bog body in the world and one of about 300 found in North West Europe.

His life, death and the reasons for it are the subject of a BBC 4 documentary tonight entitled ‘4,000 year-old Cold Case: The body in the Bog’.

It follows a two-year forensic examination by a team of international scientists and archaeologists, including State pathologist Marie Cassidy.

Historians differ on the reasons for their deaths but the link between them all is the evidence of ritual and very violent murder.

The programme examines the theory of team leader and keeper of antiquities at the National Museum Ned Kelly that Cashel man was a pre-historic king, killed by his followers to appease the deities because of bad harvests.

Scientists and archaeologists involved in the investigation discovered through scans and other high tech tests that Cashel man had a protein-rich diet of meat, dairy and cereals indicating a person of high social status.

Previous Irish bog bodies – Old Croghan man and Clonycavan man – were also believed to be high status individuals, said Mr Kelly.

There is a relatively huge volume of very early literary material, unlike other countries where Celts lived, and the writings of monks highlighted stories of high kings being sacrificed.

All three were buried at the foot of inauguration hills, where hill and bog mark the boundaries of ancient kingdoms. Far more was done to the men than was needed to kill them.

“The more violent the killing, the more valuable the sacrifice” to appease the gods, according to Mr Kelly.

A one-metre depth of peat can yield 1,000 years of history and analysis of fossilised amoebas by wetlands archaeologist Dr Ben Geary of UCC reveals a shift to a wetter, colder environment during the Bronze/Iron Age, where rainfall increased and weather cooled.

For pre-historic tribes it was a disaster, destroying the harvest and leaving the community facing starvation.

Their solution, according to the theory is to kill the king, appease the gods and hope for a better harvest – an early response to climate change.


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