Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

January 23rd January 2014

Irish could start selling AIB stake before 2016 election,

Says Michael Noonan


Michael Noonan says Irish Government could sell their AIB Stake before the 2016 Election

Ireland’s Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the government may seek to sell a stake in Allied Irish Banks Plc (ALBK) before the nation’s next scheduled election. The state owns 99.8 percent of the Dublin-based lender after injecting 21 billion euros ($28.6 billion) from 2009 to 2011 as the bank’s bad loans soared amid the worst real estate crash in Western Europe.

A sale of shares would help set a value for the bank, he said. “There’s a political timetable as well,” Noonan, 70, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today. “The government will have an election at the latest at the end of March, early April 2016, so we might test the market sometime ahead of that.” The nation’s banks, which needed a 64 billion-euro state bailout, probably won’t have to raise more capital after European stress tests this year, Noonan said.

While the rescue helped pushed national debt to 120 percent of gross domestic product, that will fall as the government runs down its cash reserves and the value of its bank stakes rise, he said. Should the government seek to sell its holding in Allied Irish in coming months, it may raise about 4.5 billion euros, according to Ciaran Callaghan, a fixed-income analyst at Merrion Capital in Dublin.

“A strategy of selling down the position over a number of years in more buoyant market conditions and when the bank’s franchise is stronger and generating healthy profits is likely to gain more political traction,” Callaghan said in a note.

Investment Grade

Last week, Moody’s Investors Service raised the nation’s credit rating back to investment grade, saying it expects the government to “provide very little, any, of the capital that the Irish banks may need” after European tests. All three of the main credit ratings companies now rank Ireland, which exited a three-year international bailout last month, as investment grade. “Certainly there won’t be a call on the state to provide capital” to the financial system, Noonan said, adding he was hopeful of winning further ratings upgrades.

Noonan has already more than recouped the 4.8 billion-euro cost of rescuing Bank of Ireland Plc, the largest lender, since 2009. The government has collected 5.9 billion euros from the lender, while retaining an almost 14 percent stake, valued at about 1.35 billion euros. While Noonan said he doesn’t expect to fully privatize Allied Irish before the election, Bank of Ireland (BKIR) is different. “It’s a question of what price we’d actually sell” the Bank of Ireland stake, he said.

“But we’re under no pressure.” Allied Irish said on Nov. 14 it has seen signs of stabilization in the quality of the bank’s loans and that the pace of growth in customer arrears was slowing. Allied Irish rose as much 2.9 percent in Dublin trading today. “With the state having 99 percent of the shares, we don’t really have an established market price on the shares,” he said. “But having done that, we’ll measure it but there’ll be no suggestion of a fire sale.”

More Irish people are becoming homeless, More social housing needed

says charity Threshold


Chief executive of national housing charity calls for more social housing to tackle issue

Chief executive of national housing charity Threshold, Bob Jordan, has called for more social housing to tackle homelessness.
The number of people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless and looking for support, has risen by 77 per cent in the last year, according to Threshold.The national housing charity, which works with adults and children suffering from poverty and exclusion, has reported that 2013 was its busiest year ever, with calls for support and guidance having been on the increase since 2010.
  “Referrals to our service almost doubled in the past year,” said Fionnughla McLoughlin, assistant manager of the Access Housing Unit. “Demand for accommodation in the private rental sector has been rising steadily in Dublin in recent years, and there is a serious shortage of rental accommodation in the city.
The increase in demand has pushed average rents up, said Ms McLoughlin, adding that welfare cuts and rent supplement caps mean “vulnerable families” are no longer able to pay. Threshold has seen a drop of almost 75 per cent in the number of rental properties advertised on “a leading property website”, she said.
The number of landlords accepting rent supplements has dropped from 21 per cent in 2010 to 1.2 per cent last year, she also claimed. Senator Aideen Hayden, Threshold chairperson, said children are particularly at risk in the volatile renting environment. The Access Housing Unit, which helped in 81 cases with homeless people moving into rented accommodation in 2013, has reported that the majority of incidences involved children.
“Homelessness, obviously, impacts particularly harshly on families with children,” said Ms Hayden. “Their education is disrupted, family support networks break down and there is a huge mental and emotional strain for those affected.” Ms Hayden believes the biggest challenge facing homeless people is actually finding a place to live. “They often spend long periods of time in hostels and shelters before getting a chance to have a place of their own.” According to Bob Jordan, Threshold chief executive, the only way to improve the situation for 2014 is a real recognition of the shortage of social housing.
“Social housing has traditionally been the safety net for people who can’t afford to rent,” said Mr Jordan. “We need to have a certain proportion of our housing stock designated for that group. “The oversupply of housing that existed at the end of the property boom has been consumed and people are struggling to find a place to live.
” Mr Jordan believes the Department of Social Protectionneeds to focus more on the actual prevention of homelessness. “It used to be more traditional issues like mental health, leaving institutional care or addiction that caused homelessness. “The new homeless are people who just aren’t able to afford their rent or bills.”

We are all being “cod-ded” by fishy business in Irish takeaways


Nearly 42% of fish tested in fast food outlets was mislabelled as cod?

In many cases, mislabelled cod products sold in takeaways were smoked, breaded or battered, which allowed effective concealment of the appearance, smell and taste of the fish fillets.

The practice of mislabelling fish appears to have been eradicated in Irish supermarkets thanks to widespread media coverage of the fishy business – but almost half of all takeaways are still codding customers, a new study has revealed. University research published four years ago found that 28 per cent of all the fish sold as cod in Irish supermarkets and takeaways was actually cheaper species, including pollack and whiting. A separate study by the Food Safety of Ireland (FSAI) also found mislabelling was rife.

In the vast majority of cases, the mislabelled cod products were smoked, breaded or battered which allowed retailers and takeaways to effectively conceal the appearance, smell and taste of the fish fillets. Once the story broke, the co-author of the report, Prof Stefano Mariani of the University of Salford and colleagues from UCD and the University of British Colombia tracked the impact of the media scrutiny and then revisited the same shops to genetically test the products which were labelled as cod.

The team published the results of their study in the journal Conservation Letters today and it shows that while the practice of mislabelling was completely wiped out in the surveyed supermarkets, the takeaway industry was still floundering – and mislabelling was still rife. All told, 41.7 per cent of fish tested in fast food outlets was mislabelled as cod despite the fact that the practice had been exposed and had received widespread coverage.

“The timeline of events suggests that the negative media coverage generated by the first cod mislabelling study put the large supermarkets under intense scrutiny, which acted as a positive catalyst for change,” Prof Mariani said. He suggested that supermarket chains had acted quickly because they “constantly compete to attract and maintain a faithful custom, and their size and financial power may allow them to exert greater control over the supply chain.

” However, the fish fraud is still widespread across the takeaway sector, “probably due to the less systematic custom and the convenient nature of the food”, Prof Mariani said and he called on the authorities to beef up its effective enforcement “in order to eradicate illegal practices in the sector”.

Three women due in Court in connection with Ballybofey Donegal drugs find


Three females are due to appear before a sitting of Letterkenny District Court this morning.

They are charged in connection with the seizure of cannabis plants in Ballbofey earlier this week. On Tuesday, cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €360,000 were discovered, along with other items made and adapted for the growth and cultivation of cannabis, during a search at a premises on Navenny St., Ballybofey.

The search was conducted by members of the Letterkenny Drugs Unit. The grow house was found above a business premises in the town. A male, aged in his 30s, and three females (two in their 20s and one 60s) were arrested. The three woman will appear in court in Letterkenny later today – the male remains in Garda custody and can be detained for up to 7-days.

Fox tracked nearly 200 miles in quest for new home


An urban fox is believed to have broken records after being tracked on a 195 mile journey to find a new home.

The fox, nicknamed ‘Fleet’, trekked the equivalent distance of Londonto Manchester over the course of three weeks. Experts say the three-year-old embarked on his long journey after he developed lungworm and was forced out of his territory by his son, Fennec.

The pair were fitted with GPS trackers as part of a University of Brighton study run with the BBC for its Winterwatch programme, hosted by wildlife expert Chris Packham. Over 21 days the team tracked Fleet, originally from Hove, Sussex, on his expedition which is believed to be the longest recorded trip for a fox in the UK.

Starting on December 9 he travelled almost 200 miles through Sussex and into Kent, ending up in Rye, 55 miles away from his original home. Lead by the university’s assistant head of pharmacy and biomolecular sciences Dr Dawn Scott, the study saw the foxes tagged with global positioning system monitors. Dr Scott said: “It’s incredible. The GPS tracker updated us on locations every 30 minutes.

“The data from the study is really important to help us understand the behaviour of urban foxes and especially how they differ from the rural fox.” Initially the father-son duo happily hunted and lived together but the pair split after Fleet began showing the symptoms of lungworm. Dr Scott explained: “There started to be a bit of competition for food and the younger fox began to show his dominance.

“We don’t exactly know what happened but we think Fennec pushed him out and that pressure caused him to leave and try to find somewhere else. “In Brighton and Hove we estimate there are 20 foxes per square kilometre, so there can be a lot of competition.

“We know they move between urban and rural areas but what happened next we were not expecting.” She added: “We know foxes travel to find new territory but we didn’t expect to see one go quite so far. “Especially as Fleet is an urban fox. He was born in Brighton and Hove and raised his young there.”

New dolphin discovered in the Amazon surprises scientists


Researchers have discovered a new species of river dolphin from the Amazon.

Writing in the journal Plos One, scientists led by Tomas Hrbek of Brazil’s Federal University of Amazonas formally describe Inia araguaiaensis, a freshwater dolphin that inhabits the Araguaia River Basin. It is the first true river dolphin discovered since 1918.

The discovery came after Hrbek and colleagues noticed that a group of river dolphins in the Araguaia — a system that is technically not part of the Amazon River basin — were isolated from more other Amazon dolphins by a series of rapids. Conducting genetic analysis, the researchers found the Araguaian boto (Inia araguaiaensis) to be distinct enough from other Amazon dolphins to be classified as a different species.

The scientists estimate that the dolphins diverged some two million years ago, corresponding to the separation of the Araguaia-Tocantins basin from the Amazon basin. The differences between the Araguaian boto and their closest relatives, Inia geoffrensis and Inia boliviensis, extend beyond genetics.

The Araguaian boto is smaller, has a different number of teeth, and has a wider skull. Distribution map of all known species and subspecies of Amazon river dolphin Inia. The new discovery has immediate implications for conservation. While river dolphins are generally not hunted directly in most of the Amazon due to local taboos, they do face risks hydroelectric projects, pollution from urban areas and agriculture, boat traffic, and accidental bycatch.

Moreover the Araguaian boto population is apparently quite low, according to the new research, which estimates the number of individuals at around 1,000. “Populations of the middle and upper Tocantins River are fragmented by six hydroelectric dams, not including the Tucurui dam, and are likely to have very few individuals,” the authors write.

“Since the 1960’s the Araguaia River basin has been experiencing significant anthropogenic pressure via agricultural and ranching activities, and the construction of hydroelectric dams, all of which have had negative effects on many biotic and abiotic aspects of the functioning of the Araguaia River ecosystem which I. araguaiaensis inhabits. Similarly I. araguaiaensis in the Tocantins River is affected by agricultural and industrial development, and is fragmented into isolated populations by hydroelectric dams.

Interpreting these data using IUCN criteria, Inia araguaiaensis should minimally be considered vulnerable (VU Red List category).” A vulnerable listing may force policymakers in Brazil to consider the species’ plight when planning new industrial developments in the basin. Brazil is currently in the midst of a dam-building spree throughout the Amazon Basin, which environmentalists warn could disrupt the ecological functioning of the world’s largest river system.


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