News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 11th February 2014

Irish households will not know the extent of water charges until next August


Fees to be revealed after local and European elections in May, Oireachtas committee told

Regulators will set water charges in August, meaning consumers will not know how much they will have to pay for water until after local and European elections in May.

At a hearing today of the Oireachtas environment committee, energy regulator Paul McGowan said tariffs will be set in August by the Commission for Energy Regulation following its consideration of cost submissions from Irish Water.

For its part, Irish Water has told the committee that it will make an interim price control submission to the regulator “in a few weeks”. This will be followed next month by submissions on the tariff structure and connection charge structure. A water charges plan submission will be made in June, it said.

In its submission to the committee, Irish Water said it has already installed more than 115,000 meters and was meeting a monthly installations target of 27,000 per month. The organisation reported “less than 2 per cent customer complaints”.

It added the metering project had uncovered badly corroded service connections which were leaking heavily and said this provided an opportunity confront the problem in partnership with local authorities.

However, Sinn Féin environment spokesman Brian Stanley said after the committee hearing that it was not clear who would pay for the leakages.

“This has imposed a cost on the local authorities concerned, despite an assurance from Irish Water that the private contractors concerned would be liable for repairs caused by the installation of meters,” Mr Stanley said.

“By my estimation, if the level of leaks caused so far is replicated across the state we will be looking at a final bill for repairs of between €18 and €20 million.”

Irish Water also said it was making major progress in its objective to elimination of boil water notices within 12 months.

Following controversy over the provision for “bonus” payments in the pay structure of Irish Water, the organistaion said a portion of salary was deliberately set “at risk” in its pay system.

“In other words, if targets are not hit, the person loses out on that segment of their salary. This new approach has been pioneered by Bord Gáis and sees each salary broken into two parts: a base pay level; a performance related element which is ‘at risk’.”

The total of the two elements would add up to the “external market pay level” for any given job, Irish Water said. It said the model would drive efficiencies, provide for a pay freeze, eliminate increments and require pay ranges to be externally benchmarked.

New research makes it plain that Ireland is a tax haven


Is Ireland a tax haven? The Irish government bristles at the question, given rising interest in cracking down on offshore financial centers, but research from a Trinity College professor is pretty definitive: Yes, it is.

When Ireland’s leaders defend their country from accusations that global companies like Apple use Irish law to avoid taxes in other countries, they frequently cite a study prepared by the World Bank and Price-Waterhouse-Coopers. It found that Ireland has an effective tax rate of 12.3%, higher than other European countries and places like Bermuda and the Caymans that are traditionally considered tax havens.

The only problem is that the study is based on a hypothetical firm’s hypothetical tax payments. And that hypothetical firm only has 60 employees, is domestically owned, doesn’t import or export anything, and makes ceramic flower pots. That’s not exactly a recipe for identifying the taxes paid by large multinational companies largely engaged in trade and reliant on intellectual property.

So James Stewart, a finance professor at Trinity, looked at data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, which reports the actual amount of money US multinationals paid for their operations in foreign countries. Here’s what he found:

Ireland, at a cool 2.2%, is a lot closer to the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg than it is to larger developed economies. And it certainly shows that the arguments Irish politicians are relying on won’t carry much water with the rest of the world. In fact, it’s strange that Price-Waterhouse-Coopers is involved in creating supposedly objective research about the international tax system: Its top employee in Ireland is a lobbyist focused on helping multinationals reduce their tax burden.

Irish consumer confidence exceptionally high as a result of job’s news


Survey says positive employment news and strong retail sales boosting confidence

The latest Consumer Market Monitor from the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and the Marketing Institute of Ireland says consumer confidence is at an exceptionally high level.

Consumer confidence is at an “exceptionally high” level, on the back of positive jobs news, strong retail sales figures and an increase in property transactions, according to a new survey.

The latest Consumer Market Monitor from the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and the Marketing Institute of Ireland, shows confidence reached a seven-year peak in December.

The survey said consumer confidence picked up considerably throughout 2013, with confidence up five points in the first half of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.

UCD professor of marketing Dr Mary Lambkin said consumer spending accounts for over 60 per cent of GNP in Ireland and is a critical factor in driving any recovery of the economy.

“Disposable incomes for households are still under pressure but a number of factors have led to an increase in consumer confidence. Positive news in the employment and property markets, strong retail sales in December, better economic stability following our exit from the bailout and an easing of fears about austerity measures are all starting to filter through to the economy,” she said.

The Monitor uses quarterly data collected from sources including the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the Central Bank, the European Commission, and various other secondary sources.

Up to 10% of young Children have mental health problems that need treatment


Thousands of children younger than 10 treated for depression as ‘toxic’ culture of online bullying fuels an epidemic 

  • More than 4,000 under-10s treated by two major NHS trusts over five years
  • True scale of the problem is likely to be much higher with 10% of children believed to suffer from mental health issues
  • Experts blame bullying, internet culture and pressures of school exams
  • Despite the epidemic, councils are slashing spending on mental health

Thousands of children aged 10 and younger are so depressed, anxious and stressed out that they require medical treatment, it has emerged.

Up to 10 per cent of schoolchildren are believed to be affected by some form of mental illness, according to campaigners.

And it has now been revealed that worrying numbers of young people are being treated for serious mental issues in hospitals and other NHS centres.

Experts blame the ‘toxic climate’ of the bullying culture on websites popular among the young, as well as other pressures of modern life, for fuelling the spate of anxiety.

Despite the epidemic of mental health problems among children and young people, two thirds of councils have cut spending on services intended to tackle the issue.

A total of 4,391 children aged 10 or below have been treated for depression, anxiety or stress in the past five years at two of Britain’s biggest NHS mental health trusts.

The figures from South London and Maudsley trust and South Essex Partnership University trust were revealed following a Freedom of Information request from the Daily Mirror.

They cover just two out of 60 mental health trusts in England alone – meaning that the true number of children affected is undoubtedly much higher.

Children’s mental health charity Young Minds estimates that 96,000 children aged between five and 10 suffer from an anxiety disorder, while 8,700 are seriously depressed.

Overall, more than half a million children and young people up to the age of 16 are affected by a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to the charity.

The problems are significantly worse for children in care, three quarters of whom suffer from behavioural or emotional issues.

Young-Minds has previously forecast that by 2020, 100,000 children could be hospitalised every year due to self-harming.

‘An increase in under-11s needing mental health services is a sad and very worrying indictment of the society we live in and the pressures children face,’ the charity’s Lucie Russell told the Mirror.

‘Every day we hear about the unprecedented toxic climate young people face in a 24/7 online culture where they can never switch off, where they experience constant assessments at school, bullying, sexualisation, consumerism and pressure to have the perfect body at a young age.’

A survey by YoungMinds revealed that 34 out of 51 local councils had cut spending on mental health services for children and teenagers since 2010.

Former Health Secretary Alan Johnson called for an investigation into the new findings, describing the number of children requiring treatment as ‘shocking’.

He told the Mirror: ‘It is clear children are increasingly having to receive NHS care because of cuts to child and adolescent mental health budgets.’

Health minister Norman Lamb said: ‘Children’s mental health is a priority for this Government and we are investing £54million over this Parliament into improving access to therapeutic treatments for children.

‘I have always been clear that mental health must be treated with equal importance as physical health and it is totally unacceptable to disadvantage mental health when allocating local funds.’

A number of tragic suicides among children have recently been linked to online bullying as well as websites which are accused of glamourising self-harm.

The mother of 15-year-old Tallulah Wilson, who threw herself under a train 16 months ago, blamed her daughter’s death on ‘a toxic digital world’.

Newly-found Star could be the oldest one in the Universe


The ultimate age barrier has been broken. The oldest living star in the entire universe may have been discovered—one formed only one or two hundred million years after the Big Bang itself.

The ancient star, born some 13.6 billion years ago, bests the previous record handily, by 400 million years, and offers a unique view into what the universe looked like soon after its birth.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to unambiguously say that we’ve found the chemical fingerprint of a first star,” said the lead author of the new study, astronomer Stefan Keller of the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“What this star has enabled us to do is record the fingerprint of those first stars.”

The record-breaker was first spotted as part of a million-star survey using the SkyMapper Telescope at the Australian National University’s Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. In high-resolution follow-up observations by the Magellan Telescopes in Chile, astronomers next noticed that one faint star, called SMSS J031300.36-670839.3, possessed unusually low levels of heavy metals such as iron.

According to current theories, astronomers can estimate the age of stars by the amount of iron that they contain. The unexpected lack of metal in the aged star indicates it was born out of the remnants of a very short-lived, primordial supernovae that had a mass 60 times that of our sun’s.

Remnant of a supernova known as Cassiopeia A in its namesake constellation, located about 11,000 light-years from Earth.

“What happened was that one first star dies in a supernova and then the gas that was thrown out mixed in with the surrounding pristine gas. Then later that gas cooled and formed a star. And so this is the star we are observing now,” said Keller.

What is puzzling researchers is that these first-generation supernovae blasts were thought to pollute their surroundings with a lot of iron.

But these new findings show that this ancient star shows no sign of these pollutants.

“This indicates the primordial star’s supernova explosion was of surprisingly low energy. Although sufficient to disintegrate the primordial star, almost all of the heavy elements, such as iron, were consumed by a black hole that formed at the heart of the explosion,” said Keller.

Galaxy Building Block

The new stellar old-timer calls our own Milky Way galaxy home, and it is located just 6,000 light-years away in the far southern constellation Dorado. But it is thought to be even older than the galaxy.

Keller and his team believe that the stellar old-timer may have formed in an isolated gas blob in the early universe. Later on, it was incorporated into our galaxy.

“Stars are like time capsules; they lock away a chunk of the universe as it was when the star formed,” he says. ”This is an important time in the evolution of the universe—our Milky Way is formative, the first stars have switched on, and the first heavier elements, which we need for life, are starting to disperse.”

Even with the largest telescopes, we have not yet been able to study the light directly from this time, he adds.

Despite its age, the ancient star can still be spotted from the Southern Hemisphere with a large backyard telescope.

Because the star glows at a feeble 14.7 magnitude, Keller estimates that to see it visually a sky-watcher will need to peer skyward under dark skies through an instrument at least 16 to 20 inches. However, much more modest scopes outfitted with digital cameras should have an easier time capturing the star’s subtle glimmer.

Even if you don’t have the astro-gear to hunt this cosmic old-timer down for yourself, it’s amazing to just look up at this one spot in the sky and ponder that this intriguing record-breaker lies in our own galactic backyard.


Comments are closed.