News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 30th December 2013

Ex-Taoisigh Ahern & Cowen will agree to banks grilling

Says Enda Kenny


Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen will show no “reluctance” to being quizzed during the banking inquiry, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said.

Mr Kenny has heaped pressure on the former taoisigh, saying he believes the pair will agree to give evidence during the much-anticipated investigation.

The inquiry is due to begin in the latter half of next year, although its exact form has yet to be agreed.


Mr Kenny said he believes former holders of his office, such as Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen, will comply with a request to give evidence about the banking collapse.

Mr Cowen was the Taoiseach who presided over the controversial bank guarantee in September 2008. Mr Ahern resigned from office just six months previously.

“I don’t think there will be any reluctance on [the part of] any of my predecessors in this office to give hearings at the banking inquiry,” Mr Kenny said.

The bank guarantee meant the State covered hundreds of millions of euro worth of liabilities at several of the country’s financial institutions.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny insisted the inquiry must not “interfere” with ongoing court cases involving a number of former bank executives.

He highlighted the DIRT inquiry, which investigated allegations of tax evasion in the banking sector, as an example of an investigation that could not infringe on court cases.

“Remember, whatever form the banking inquiry takes, it can’t interfere with the course of justice where there are cases being taken before the courts,” Mr Kenny said.

“So that’s a matter that we have to prepare for very carefully in whatever form the banking inquiry takes.

“I’ve had this before with the DIRT inquiry, where actually there was a five or six month lead-in in preparation for the people who served on the DIRT inquiry, not to infringe or impact upon elements of court cases that were being taken that were under way,” he added.


Meanwhile, Mr Kenny refused to say which Oireachtas Committee he would prefer to see conduct the banking inquiry.

There has been debate about whether the inquiry would be headed by the Public Accounts Committee instead of the Finance Committee.

The chairpersons of both committees have expressed a desire to conduct the investigation, which will examine the period up until the bank guarantee.

Asked which body he would prefer to conduct the inquiry, Mr Kenny said it is a matter for the Oireachtas Committee of Procedures and Privileges to decide.

“The Cabinet approved that … an inquiry should take place,” Mr Kenny said.

“It’s then a matter for the Committee of Procedure and Privileges in the Oireachtas to do its business in that matter.”

Insolvencies in Ireland fall as 15,000 firms formed


There was an almost 20% fall in the number of insolvencies in all sectors across the economy this year, as over 15,000 companies were formed.

The figures released by risk analysis company Vision-net found that professional services and construction sectors were the industries worst affected by insolvencies in 2013.

The figures indicated that the number of construction firms entering into receivership may have bottomed out. The number of companies failing in the sector was down by 1.1% while the number of real-estate firms declared insolvent has fallen by 2.5%.

Vision-net managing director Christine Cullen said that the last 12 months had seen an improvement in trading conditions.

“2013 can be characterised as a year of improvement for Irish business, as trading conditions recovered and consumer sentiment strengthened,” she said.

“Encouraging also are the number of new companies — over 15,000 — set up in 2013, a 10% growth year-on-year.”

The data showed that the hospitality sector was still facing a very difficult environment, with 65% of restaurants at risk of failing and 54% of hotels rated as being at a high risk of collapse.

“A significant proportion of companies in the hospitality, construction, and IT sectors continue to remain at high risk of collapse,” Ms Cullen said.

“However, budgetary and other economic stimuli such as the lower Vat rate, initiatives for business start-ups, and a revival in the property market should have an impact in the months ahead.

“Indeed, the fall in the number of insolvencies in the construction (1.1%) and real estate sectors (2.5%), while small, are tentative signs of emerging recovery in these sectors.”

No frills health plans for Irish families

Medical concept   

Health Insurance companies are rolling out “no frills” health insurance plans in a bid to stop thousands of young families dumping their cover.

Some half a million people are due to renew their health cover by the end of January, the busiest time of the year for renewals.

But thousands of young families are coming under pressure to ditch their policies, especially after changes in October’s Budget sent premiums up by between €60 and €500 per adult.

Laya has now launched 21 new plans in the past few days.


Some of them as “no frills” plans with prices as low as €495 a year for an adult.

These nine new ‘Advantage’ plans come with a number of restrictions – those taking them out will not be covered in all private hospitals, while the cost of some procedures are not fully covered.

Laya has also launched nine Flex Plans that cover private and public hospitals, and three low-priced Assure plans.

Dermot Goode of said the launch of the 21 new plans was in response to Aviva introducing six cut-price plans in June, with similar restrictions.

The Aviva Health Value plan drops in price by €78 for an adult from January 1, to €850. The plan covers public and private hospitals, but there is an excess (a payment that has to be made by the patient) of €125 for private hospital admissions.

VHI is now offering half price for children on a number of its plans – One Plan Family, Parents & Kids, Parents & Kids Excess and Nurses Plan Select and Teachers Plan Select.

New player Glo already offers free cover for children under three. It is now offering half price once these children reach three and the policy is being renewed or a new one is being taken out.

Mr Goode warned consumers that health insurers were not telling people about the special offers they have when contact is made with a call centre.

He said consumers need to do research or consult a broker, if they want to keep costs down.

“This is an escalation in the level of competition. There are offers from all four insurers and 21 new plans have been launched. That is unprecedented,” Mr Goode said.

Pope Francis nominated for Tipperary peace award


US envoy to Northern Ireland Richard Haass also among five nominees

Among the five nominees for the 2013 Tipperary Peace Prize, published today, is Pope Francis. He is already Time magazine Person of the Year, and The Advocate, America’s oldest gay rights magazine, chose him as the “single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of LGBT people”.

Other nominees for the prize include US diplomat Richard Haass, currently in Belfast in a bid to resolve legacy issues from the Troubles; Dr Lee Kyu Hyung, who helped found the Taekwondo Peace Corps, which travels the world to promote peace through Taekwondo; and Sr Mary Tarcisa Lokot, who has helped rebuild peace in northern Uganda.

The fifth nominee is the International Peace Bureau, which is dedicated to the vision of a world without war. It is made up of 300 member bodies in 70 countries.

Previous award recipients include former South African president, the late Nelson Mandela, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the late senator Gordon Wilson of Enniskillen, and former US president Bill Clinton.

The 2011 recipients were former president Mary McAleese and her husband Dr Martin McAleese, while the 2012 prize went to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

A statement today from the Tipperary Peace Convention, announcing the nominees, noted the pope had “throughout his life, both as an individual and as a religious leader . . . been noted for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths”.

It said Mr Haass had already received the US state department’s distinguished service award for his work in Northern Ireland.

Dr Lee Kyu Hyung was “widely regarded in his capacity as professor at the Keimyung University and through his long established work as advocate for peace through martial arts”.

Sr Mary Tarcisa Lokot was known for “ her willingness to reach out to those who once were responsible for mass killings” in Uganda.

Irish Jobseekers get 27 new one-stop shop help centres


Twenty seven new Intreo centres will be open by the end of next month, bringing the total number of the ‘one-stop shops for jobseekers’ to 43 nationally.

The new centres, 16 of which are already operational, allow social welfare recipients to obtain income supports and receive advice and help to gain employment in the one place.

The initiative is run by the Department of Social Protection as part of a €40m overhaul of the social welfare system.

Intreo services will have replaced the department’s 63 offices around the country by the end of 2014.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is under pressure to overhaul the system this coming year but has missed targets set by her own department to conduct one-on-one interviews with some 185,000 people on the dole.

Announcing the new centres, a department spokesperson said 148,500 interviews up to November had been carried out, and added that all jobseekers had now been profiled.

Sligo Man (30) charged over barricade incident stand off


Accused in court for possession of single-barrel shotgun during Garda siege

Accused in court for possession of single-barrel shotgun during Garda siege

Gardai at the scene of the incident on the Sligo to Strandhill Road in Sligo on Saturday.

A man arrested after a 13-hour Garda standoff appeared in court today charged with possession of a single-barrel shotgun with the intent to endanger life.

Michael O’Connor (30), described as unemployed, was remanded in custody until next Friday at Harristown District Court in Castlerea, Co Roscommon.

Judge Kevin Kilrane was told at a special sitting of Sligo District Court that the prosecution was aware Mr O’Connor would have been in contact with the mental health service in the past.

Superintendent Mary Murray added: “But we are not aware of any significant mental health issues now.”

Although Mr O’Connor’s charge gave his home address as Nolmar, Scardenmore, Strandhill Rd, Sligo, the court was told by Supt Murray during her objection to bail that he was homeless. She said her bail objection included the seriousness of the charge.

His parents and other family members were present in the court.

Officer Detective Sergeant Con Lee say that the arrest was made on foot of instructions from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The formal arrest was made at 10.30pm last night. Det Sgt Lee said that when cautioned, Mr O’Connor said that he had nothing to say in answer to the charge.

Defence solicitor Mark Mullaney said he was not making an application for bail but he was noting the superintendent ’s objection to it.

Mr Mullaney said he was asking, at Mr O’Connor’s request, that he be given a medical psychiatric assessment.

Mr O’Connor, wearing an off-white t-shirt beneath a grey pullover and grey tracksuit bottoms, did not speak while in court. As he left he placed a navy woollen beret on his head.

The charge outlined that the incident occurred at his parents’ home, Nolmar, Scardenmore, on December 28th . Mr O’Connor was taken into custody at the end of a 13-hour siege in which the bungalow was surrounded by armed gardaí. A number of shots were fired but no-one was injured in the incident.

Christmas Eve spacewalk a great success for NASA


Take a breather, spacewalkers. Working tirelessly over the holiday, astronauts equipped with snorkels successfully repaired damage to the vital cooling system on board the International Space Station.

The system circulates ammonia to keep internal and external instruments at the correct temperature. NASA had to power down parts of three ISS modules when the system malfunctioned on 11 December.

On 24 December, astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins completed the second of three planned spacewalks to replace a failed pump module on the station’s exterior. Although they were hit by a “mini blizzard” of toxic ammonia flakes that burst from a supply line, they finished the job ahead of schedule, eliminating the need for a third outing.

Snorkels on standby

Hopkins was wearing the same spacesuit used last July by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, who nearly drowned when his helmet started filling with water. NASA investigators concluded that the most likely cause of the leak was contamination in the suit’s cooling system, which blocked a filter.

Although the filter was cleared NASA didn’t want to take any chances so instructed the astronauts to fashion snorkels from plastic tubes and Velcro. That would allow them to breathe air from lower in the suit in the event of a leak. As it was, their helmets remained bone dry.

While things went smoothly, the repairs meant delaying the first resupply mission for private company Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Virginia. Its Cygnus cargo craft is now scheduled to begin official deliveries to the ISS in January.

On return to the ISS, Hopkins thanked ground crew: “Merry Christmas to everybody. It took a couple of licks to get her done, but we got it.”


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