News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tue/Wed. 4th & 5th March 2014

Irish Government sets out its priorities for remainder of term


Taoiseach and Tánaiste pledge to step up job creation efforts as they mark third year in office

Partners in arms: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore at a joint press conference at Government Buildings on Tuesday.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he recognised many people have no sense of change in the recovering economy as he and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore pledged to step up the Government’s effort to boost job creation and economic growth.

Publishing a positive assessment of the Coalition’s performance in office in the last 12 months, Mr Kenny said said the end of the bailout in December meant the Government had “some little flexibility” to focus on jobs creation and the lack of credit in the banking sector.

The Government’s aim is to boost 2 per cent anticipated economic growth this year to 2.5 per cent in 2015 and to 3 per cent by 2016 with the long-term objectives of eliminating the budget deficit by 2018 and restoring full-employment by 2010.

“I’ve often said it’s the fallacy of fools in politics to look for any credit. This is a work in progress. We’re not going to grade ourselves. Obviously in the spring of 2016 all grades will be known,” Mr Kenny told reporters at Government Buildings.

“Clearly the bailout was not an end in itself, it’s the start of implementing now two priority targets, create more jobs and the fact that so many people in the country do not feel any sense of change in their lives for the better.

“While the unemployment figure is down from 15.1 per cent to 12 per cent, still much too high, the Tánaiste and I are committed on behalf of the parties in Government to have a continued relentless focus this year now on job creation.”

Noting that this month marks the beginning of the Government’s fourth year in office, Mr Gilmore said 2014 was the year in which decisions would be made as to how the people share in the recovery.

“If March 2011 was a critical moment in Ireland’s crisis, then 2014 is the pivotal moment in our country’s recovery,” he said.

“The test for our country and for the Government is how people are going to share in that recovery.”

Recovery should meant that people looking for work should be able to find it and that people who work for a living should be able to afford to live. “It should also mean that as our public finances allow that we can ease the burden on hard pressed families,” Mr Gilmore said.

The 2014 “Annual Report” on the Programme for Government said the Coalition will complete a second comprehensive expenditure review in the first half of the year and publish a revised capital plan.

There will be new measures in the coming weeks to boost employment in the construction sector. Draft legislation will also be published to establish a €6 billion Strategic Investment Fund.

7.1% VAT Irish Exchequer returns signals an increase of rising consumer confidence


The amount of VAT collected so far this year is up 7.1% on the same period in 2013, signaling people are starting to spend again.

But despite strong jobs figures showing employment increased last year by 61,000, the amount of income tax collected in January and February is roughly the same as the first two months of last year.

The Department of Finance described the income tax data from the latest Exchequer returns as surprising given the strong jobs figures.

A spokesman said officials are examining the issue and suggested it could be as a result of changes to payments systems that have been delaying some returns.

He said a number of income tax receipts for last month were received today, meaning they were too late to be included in the figures for last month.

“There is something going on and we’re not quite sure. But it’s only February and we’ll wait for March,” the spokesman said,

“They’re not as high as they should be. All of the other (economic) indicators are pointing the right way.

“It is surprising to see that income tax is basically flat in February.”

The first Exchequer data for 2014, released last month, was heavily distorted because of delays in receiving tax receipts due to the switch-over to a new European-wide payments system.

The latest Exchequer returns show €2.1bn was brought into the state’s coffers in VAT up to the end of last month. This is up from €1.98bn in the first two months of last year.

But overall, the tax take for the first two months of this year is flat compared with the first two months of 2013.

€5.8bn came in through tax in the first two months of the year, down €4m on the same period last year.

Public spending, at €7.1bn is down €236m or 3.2% year on year.

The deficit, the gap between how much the state spends and takes in through taxes and other revenue, widened to €1.7bn compared with €0.9bn at the end of February last year.

The Department said this was due to the sale of the Bank of Ireland Contingent Convertible Capital notes for over €1bn in January of last year and a loan to the Social Insurance Fund of €300m last month.

Passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries


Passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries, prematurely ageing their blood vessels by more than three years, say researchers.

The damage – thickening of blood vessel walls – increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life, they say in the European Heart Journal.

In their study of more than 2,000 children aged three to 18, the harm occurred if both parents smoked.

Experts say there is no “safe” level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

This study goes a step further and shows it [passive smoking] can cause potentially irreversible damage to children’s arteries increasing their risk of heart problems in later life”

The research, carried out in Finland and Australia, appears to reveal the physical effects of growing up in a smoke-filled home – although it is impossible to rule out other potentially contributory factors entirely.

Hidden damage

Ultrasound scans showed how children whose parents both smoked developed changes in the wall of a main artery that runs up the neck to the head.

While the differences in carotid intima-media thickness were modest, they were significant and detectable some 20 years later when children had reached adulthood, say the investigators.

Study author Dr Seana Gall, from the University of Tasmania, said: “Our study shows that exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes a direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries.

“Parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking. This will not only restore their own health but also protect the health of their children into the future.”

The results took account of other factors that might otherwise explain the association, such as whether the children went on to be smokers themselves, but the findings remained unchanged.

However, if only one parent smoked the effect was not seen – possibly because exposure was not as high.

Dr Gall said: “We can speculate that the smoking behaviour of someone in a house with a single adult smoking is different. For example, the parent that smokes might do so outside away from the family, therefore reducing the level of passive smoking. However, as we don’t have this type of data, this is only a hypothesis.”

Regardless, experts say all children should be protected from second-hand smoke.

Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The negative health effects of passive smoking are well known, but this study goes a step further and shows it can cause potentially irreversible damage to children’s arteries increasing their risk of heart problems in later life.

‘Avoid scaremongering’

“If you’re a smoker, the single most effective way of reducing your child’s exposure to passive smoke is for you to quit.

“If this isn’t possible, having a smoke-free home and car offers the best alternative to help protect your child from the harmful effects of passive smoke.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “We must avoid scaremongering because damage to arteries could be caused by a number of factors including poor diet and other forms of air pollution.

“While it’s sensible and considerate not to smoke around children in a small confined space it’s far too easy to point the finger at smokers when the issue is extremely complicated.”

To get equality in politics participation is no excuse for the promotion of women into the front-line


Michelle O’Donnell Keating is not a household name in Ireland, but perhaps she should be.

She, along with Niamh Gallagher, is founder of Women for Election, a non-profit, non-partisan organisation whose vision is of an Ireland with balanced participation of women and men in political life.

Their mission is to ensure an equal playing field for both sexes and, in particular, to inspire and equip women to succeed in politics in Ireland. They deserve our support and admiration.

They have an uphill battle, though. Despite the fact that it was an Irishwoman who became the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, the active participation of women in Irish politics is abysmal.

The charge was led by Constance Gore-Booth, the Countess Markiewicz, who won a Commons seat for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s as one of 73 Sinn Féin MPs elected in December 1918.

Constance did not take her seat and, along with the other Sinn Féin members elected, formed the first Dáil Éireann. She was also the first woman in Europe to hold a cabinet position, as Minister of Labour of the Irish Free State. It is ironic, therefore, that Ireland now stands a lowly 88th in the international league table of women in politics, the same as South Korea, below Morocco and Libya and just ahead of Mongolia.

As we approach International Women’s Day next Saturday, perhaps it is time to reflect on where we are and where we wish to be in terms of equal opportunity for women in politics. Our poor record of female participation is despite the fact that, unique among western democracies, Ireland elected two women in succession as President — Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. Both — in their own way — did us proud.

So, why is it that, while we celebrate female presidents we seem reluctant to elect, or even select as candidates, a greater number of women as local representatives or members of the Dáil?

As the website records, since the foundation of the State, just 91 women have been elected and the Dáil has never been less than 85% male. In the 2011 general election, only 86 of 566 candidates were women (15%) and 25 of 166 of those elected were women (also 15%).

Looking ahead, the number of female candidates for the May local elections remains pitifully low, with a clear urban/rural divide. Women candidates are most concentrated in Leinster (27.8%), followed by Connacht (23.6%) and Ulster (18.8%). Munster has the least with 16.7%. Dublin has one of the highest number countrywide — 34.9%. Galway has 29.4% female representation, and Cork 21.4%.

That is hardly anything to shout about. In a report published yesterday, the National Women’s Council says women have not been properly integrated into the Oireachtas and this has had a negative impact on society. It is not as if women have not proven their political skills. The world’s two most powerful women are Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff. Some of our best parliamentary performers in Ireland are women.

Why not a woman Taoiseach? Why not indeed, but that may not be enough. Even Nordic nations such as Denmark, where the leaders of its three main political parties are women, still struggle for full female representation.

We started the process of political equality almost 100 years ago. History demands that we finish it.A total of 1,000 patients and nearly 700 doctors were surveyed by the Medical Council.

NUI Galway now to offer extra CAO points for elite Irish athletes

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Some fifteen athletes will receive 40 points on top of their Leaving Cert results.

FIFTEEN IRISH HIGH LEVEL athletes will be offered bonus CAO points for courses at NUI Galway.

The scheme announced yesterday will see elite athletes given 40 extra points as they apply for courses.

The plan is an extension of the university’s Elite Athlete Scholarship scheme which includes a subsistence grant, performance supports, gym membership and medical support.

It will only serve those under 21 who are applying for undergraduate courses who meet strict criteria in a number of identified sports.

The points will be added to a minimum requirement of 350 points from a single sitting of the Leaving Certificate in six subjects.

President of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Browne said that the scheme will support athletes in their learning.

“NUI Galway has a long and proud tradition of sporting success. Our success has fuelled our ambition.

“We aim to be leaders in research, innovation and learning and as a university we are proud to support the next generation of elite athletes as their ambition and dedication leads them to sporting success.”

Ireland rugby player Robbie Henshaw is a second year arts student at NUIG, he says that the supports offered can be vital.

Performing at the highest level means you can’t take your eye of the ball, so it’s great to see NUI Galway rewarding elite athletes for their dedication through this scheme.

“University support like this allows you to concentrate on getting the best results both on and off the pitch.”

Focus on Rote learning causes problems for Leaving Cert students


Conference hears of ways of improving transition to third level

Universities complain the Leaving Certificate points system affects students’ capacity for independent thinking.

The focus on accumulating CAO points causes Leaving Certificate students to struggle with the transition to third level education, a conference has heard.

Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education Mary Doyle said the transition of students from second level to onward education must be improved.

“You can’t get further and higher education right until you get second level right,” she told the Association of Principals and Deputy Principals national symposium.

Projected growth in demand for second level places will bring greater challenges for schools and policy makers in an area which already accounts for 16% of Government spending.

Earlier, the president of the association Pádraig Fallon said Ireland had a high level of secondary school participation but it was important to improve access to further and higher education, especially among students from disadvantaged, Traveller and foreign backgrounds.

By 2018 an extra 70,000 students are expected to be in secondary education with enrolment due to peak at 990,000 in 2024. “Whichever way you look at it, it’s going to be big and it’s going to be expensive,” Ms Doyle said.

The transition to third level could be made easier if upward pressure on CAO points was eased by reducing the number of grade bands in the Leaving Certificate; addressing “problematic predictability” in the exams and reducing the number of specialised degree programmes in higher education, she said.

These factors push up CAO points requirements which then puts pressure on teachers to encourage rote learning among senior cycle students. This, in turn, leads third level institutions to complain that students lack the capacity for independent learning when they enter college.

“Using the Leaving Cert to decide who goes where in third level may have a negative effect on teaching in fifth and sixth years,” Ms Doyle said, adding that evidence suggests some students make subject choices based on what is easiest to rote learn.

Trinity College vice-provost Professor Linda Hogan agreed with Ms Doyle and said educators had to co-operate across the sector to bring about reform. It is “all too easy” for stakeholders to demand reform but to believe it should start somewhere else, she said. “If we are really going to reform education then we really do have to start working together and stop pointing the finger.”

She added the third level sector bore a significant level of responsibility for the problems besetting education in Ireland.

“The single biggest issue we are trying to address…is the emphasis on rote learning,” she said. A “byproduct” of the points system. Third level institutions are “dismayed” by that system but ignore the role they play in it and the power they have to change it.

She added that Trinity was trialing a new admission route which would consider a broader range of achievements rather than a single set of exams. “Every college wants to admit the best students,” she said. “But we have to move away from equating the best with a simple points score.”


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