News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 22nd March 2014

AIB bites the bullet and its time for other banks to wake up?

  

AIB has taken a refreshing approach to the problem of mortgage arrears

For five years, politicians have been carping about the slow learning banks not writing off mortgage debt for homeowners in arrears. Now AIB is doing just that. But its actions are not being met with universal approval from public representatives.

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said whether a family gets a sustainable solution to its mortgage headache depends on which bank provided them with their loan.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said he “welcomed” the development but called for a more “systemic” approach. He remarked that although AIB restructured their mortgage, in one case the family involved still had problems with other unsecured debts to credit card companies or credit unions.

This was what the Insolvency Service of Ireland was originally established to achieve – agreements to deal with all debts. Next month the organisation will produce figures for the numbers of people who have gone down the insolvency route. The figures will be low but the organisation is likely to stress that the pipeline of deals is growing.

The individuals who have secured Personal Insolvency Arrangements (which cover mortgages and unsecured debt) have won significant write-offs. The problems is that numbers using the service remain very low. But the service’s existence may be forcing banks to become more realistic.

One answer is for the Central Bank to introduce a uniform system for dealing with mortgages arrears and force the banks and unsecured lenders to implement it. But the Central Bank’s policy has been to leave it to the banks to decide how they will solve the problem.

AIB has taken a refreshing approach, bitten the bullet and put the rest of the banks to shame. Its split mortgage sees a portion of debt written off and a second part of the mortgage being put to one side or warehoused. This leaves the borrowers with a new loan which is no more than 80% of the current value of the home.

If the borrowers make an attempt to pay off some of the warehoused portion of the loan, the bank will write off more money from that loan. The smart part of this arrangement is that while AIB does write down some debt there is a clear incentive for people to make a contribution to the warehoused portion of their loan. These arrangements will only apply in a minority of cases where borrowers are in arrears.

The bank has broken away from other members of the Irish Banking Federation which has remained curiously silent on AIB’s innovation.

The attitude of the remaining members of the industry is that the danger of write-offs being exploited by unscrupulous borrowers is so large as to justify not writing off debt as a policy. That has resulted in the problem dragging on for years.

The Governor of the Central Bank. Patrick Honohan. does not want to micro manage the lenders – instead he wants them to come up the solutions. So the Central Bank has ordered the banks to sort out 25% of mortgage accounts which are in arrears by the end this month.

AIB’s mortgage book is not the worst in the Irish market, but it still has decided that writing off debt is one possible solution to take to clean up the mess.

How long will it be before the other banks stop wasting time and follow suit?

50% of European women have needless operations for early breast cancer?

 A European study finds

Preparing for a mammography    

‘Needless surgery’ for half of women who have mastectomies for early breast cancer

50% European women having mastectomies for early signs of cancer & who have to endure needless surgery, a major study suggests.

Experts said the figures from a national audit of UK care were a “terrible” indictment of the treatment received by patients – with too many enduring extra procedures or unnecessary mastectomies because the extent of disease was not detected accurately.

The study presented to the European Breast Cancer Conference in Glasgow examined the treatment of women with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) – an early sign of cancer.

Of more than 8,000 patients, about 2,500 ended up having a procedure to remove their breast.

  However, the study found that in 49% of such cases, the mastectomy was either unnecessary or was being carried out because a previous operation had failed.

Researchers said the failure to accurately chart the extent of disease meant doctors were carrying out too many mastectomies when women did not need them – while carrying out more minor procedures on those who needed full breast removal.

The study found that in almost one third of cases, the women undergoing mastectomies had already undergone a lumpectomy, which is a more minor procedure which should only be used for small lumps.

In most of those cases, further surgery was required because the extent of disease had been underestimated, researchers said.

Conversely, 21% of the mastectomies were carried out on women whose lumps were small enough that such major surgery could have been avoided, the study found.

Researchers said the figures provided a “stark” warning that thousands of women were receiving the wrong treatment, and highlighted enormous variations between hospitals.

Experts said that the problems arose when pathologists and radiologists failed to accurately plot the spread of disease – over and under-estimating the extent of disease.

Dr Jeremy Thomas, a consultant pathologist at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK, who led the study, said “It is a terrible figure, and it is quite clear that there is significant variation between hospitals.”

He said it appeared that the extent of disease was not being properly mapped by some teams, while others might benefit from taking more biopsies to measure the size of tumours more accurately.

“It would appear from our data that, in some hospitals, the discussions in the multi disciplinary teams are not looking in enough detail at the results from the mammograms and pathology in order to make the right decision about the best surgical treatment for these women,” Dr Thomas said.

Each year, around 5,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) – a condition where non-invasive cancerous cells are contained within the milk ducts of the breast.

Without treatment, around half of cases are likely to develop invasive breast cancer .

However, doctors are unable to accurately identify which of the patients will do so, meaning all are offered treatment, the scale of which varies depending on the size of tumours.

Researchers said the study uncovered “very wide variations” in practice between different hospitals.

At some, no mastectomies were carried out on women found to have only small tumours. In others as many as 60% of operations were found to involve small lumps which could have been safely removed without a mastectomy, the research found.

Experts said that in some cases, women might opt for mastectomy, even if they were told a lumpectomy was sufficient, but said the scale of the differneces could not be put down to patient preferences.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “These results highlight a variation in practice which needs to be addressed to ensure that all patients who are given a diagnosis of DCIS receive the highest possible standard of care and most appropriate treatment, regardless of the hospital they are in. We look forward to seeing how these results can inform practice to ensure that these variations are no longer an issue.”

DCIS accounts for around 20 per cent of cancers which are detected by breast screening.

The study’s authors said that management of DCIS was “one of the most challenging parts of breast screening practice” and pointed out that 80 per cent of all mastectomies are carried out on larger tumours, which cannot be managed via lumpectomy.

Activist Margaretta D’Arcy the 79 year old warrior released from Mountjoy prison on Friday

 

Margaretta D’Arcy is seen during her release from Mountjoy prison in Dublin today.

Aosdána member served nine-and-a-half weeks of her three month jail term.

Activist and Aosdána member Margaretta D’Arcy (79), who was released from prison in Dublin this morning, described Shannon airport as “a place of murder, assassination and complicity”.

Speaking at a press conference in the city-centre, she said the Government, by allowing US military planes to land in Shannon airport, was complicit in murder and asssination.

M/s D’Arcy served nine and a half weeks of a 12-week sentence for refusing to sign a bond to uphold the law and keep away from unauthorised zones at Shannon airport. She was arrested in Galway on January 15th and taken to Limerick to serve a three month sentence for illegal incursion of the runway at Shannon airport on October 7th, 2012.

The sentence had been suspended when served at Ennis District Court last December, but was activated when she refused to sign the bond.

She said today she could not have signed the bond stipulating she keep away from Shannon, she said, because to do so would have enabled the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter to say: “Oh she is just like us, we knew in the end.”

She explained today that by going onto the runway “we alerted the aviation world that Shannon is not a proper airport but a place of murder, assassination and complicity”.

She said she had received “thousands of letters of support from all across the world. Somehow all over the world it has triggered something.

“The Government is willing to put somebody who speaks the truth in to jail. There is a growing awareness of truth. We have to speak the truth. We cannot be complicit, we cannot compromise with the truth. If something is wrong we have to go and say it is wrong. And it is completely wrong for the Government to allow a civilian airport to be used as a military airport. It is a crime for the military to be able to hide behind a civilian airport. It is something that we should not tolerate.”

Referring to the vindication of Garda whistle-blowers Sergeant Maurice McCabe and retired Garda John Wilson, along with the support she has received for her actions, she said she had a sense that things were changing in Ireland.

“I don’t think we are going to put up anymore with complicity. We can change the world. The world is changing.”

She plans to return home to Galway tomorrow, and is due to be admitted to hospital early next week, where she has been treated for bladder cancer.

During her detention, she was visited by close friend Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. Mr Arden said that his mother had received many messages of support.

She is due to appear in court again on June 24th in relation to a separate charge of an incursion on Shannon airport’s runway on September 1st, 2013.

During her detention, she was visited by close friend Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. Mr Arden said that his mother had received many messages of support.

Limerick tot Theo meets the hero who found him wandering on a roadway

  

Explorer Theo Costelloe with his mother, Christine, and dad, Keif, at the Castletroy Park Hotel, Limerick, yesterday with UL student James Ryan who found him wandering along the roadway in the early hours of the morning.

A two-year old boy has met his hero who found him wandering along a roadway in the early hours of the morning after the toddler walked out of his home while his family slept in their beds.

Theo Costelloe gave student teacher James Ryan a high-five after meeting up with him along with his mother, Christine, and father, Keif.

Theo climbed out of his cot at 2am last Wednesday, walked down his stairs and managed to open his front door before being found a mile away by Mr Ryan.

The intrepid toddler was clutching his baby sister’s pink sleep blanket and was only wearing a blue one-piece sleep suit when he was found “shivering” by gallant James.

Kilkenny native James Ryan, who’s studying Irish and French in University of Limerick, was walking home from his nightclub job when he saw Theo crossing the Dublin Road in the dead of night.

James said: “He’s the nicest child. To be honest he was happy out. He wasn’t phased at all. He was a little nervous after first meeting him, but then after a few seconds he was grand. When the Gardaí pulled up he hid between my legs.”

Theo and his parents were thrilled to meet the man who saved their son from possible death or serious injury.

“When the Gardaí pulled up . . . He was saying ‘Nana’ and stuff like that. I thought he was staying at his granny’s house because he was saying ‘Nana’ over and over, and I thought maybe something had happened to his granny. So I tried to walk him back towards the house and he seemed like he knew where he was going to be honest. So, he more or less led me to where he was going.”

Keif Wynne, 35, praised James for his gallantry: “He’s an absolute legend. You can tell he’s a gentleman. The right man found him, being honest. The right man did find him. It could have ended so nasty.”

Looking at Theo, he added: “Just look at him. He went from such a tiny child and now look at him . . . he’s just a lunatic running everywhere. He’s always been a small bit shy, but obviously he’s pushing the boundaries now.”

Asked if the family would be investing in a new bolt lock, he joked: “Don’t mind buying a lock, we’ll be buying a new door.”

Christine Theo’s mother, who was panic -stricken when Gardaí called to her home at Aspen Gardens to inform her that Theo had been found a mile away, threw her arms around James as they met for the first time.

James had flagged down taxi driver, Noel Flanagan, who waited with him and Theo until Gardaí arrived.

James added: “Noel deserves praise too because he was half of it too.”

He said: “I hailed a taxi and Noel stopped. Theo was cold so we just sat into the front seat. It turned out I knew Noel because he has dropped me home from work once or twice.”

After giving his hero a high five, little Theo presented James with a ‘thank you’ card and returned the T-shirt he had given him on his first unforgettable trip away from home alone.

Wild bee hives hit by killer bug parasite to Ireland

 

Hives for wild bees have been decimated by a bug the Varroa parasite (pic above right) introduced to Ireland accidentally.

The varroa parasite, nicknamed ‘destructor’ because of its impact on bee colonies, attaches itself to a bee’s body and then feeds on its blood.

Between 2011 and 2012, Irish honey production was slashed by almost 70pc due to the combination of bad weather and the damaging impact of the varroa mite.

If it is left untreated it can wipe out a hive in a matter of weeks, according to the international federation of beekeepers, Apimondia.

The parasite was first introduced 20 years ago. But now, struggling honey producers have received a major boost in the form of a temporary EU ban on three controversial crop chemicals.

And Ireland’s 3,000 beekeepers are hoping that record numbers of queen bees produced last summer will help kick-start honey production this season.

“Irish beekeepers really didn’t have a decent honey crop for a number of years,” Apimondia chairman Philip McCabe said.

“But this year will hopefully tell a lot if we can get some decent weather and we see just what impact the ban will have.”

Ripples of Big Bang open new theories and questions

Scientists, from left, Clem Pryke, Jamie Bock, Chao-Lin Kuo and John Kovac smile during a news conference at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, March 17, 2014, regarding their new findings on the early expansion of the universe. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)    

Scientists, from left, Clem Pryke, Jamie Bock, Chao-Lin Kuo and John Kovac smile during a news conference at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, March 17, 2014, regarding their new findings on the early expansion of the universe. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

No one was around 14 billion years ago when all of existence was compressed into a single point so small that it would not have been visible to the human eye.

Most scientists believe that pressure within this single dot built to such an extent that, when it exploded, the resulting wave of super-heated particles spread out like a hot, dense soup trillions of times hotter than anything that can be manufactured on Earth. Space, time and the laws of physics came into existence after the Big Bang.

It took roughly 380,000 years for the hot particles from that primordial explosion to cool down enough to form atoms, the building blocks for everything from dust to stars and galaxies. Planets began to form from the gas and dust that circled the stars a few billion years later.

Flash forward to the 21st century, and scientists who have been working together for three years and using a telescope at the South Pole to look for a specific pattern of light waves within the faint microwave glow left from the Big Bang announced Monday that they’ve uncovered evidence of this cosmic expansion.

Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are confident that they have spotted ripples in the fabric of the cosmos that followed the Big Bang.

Like all big scientific claims, it has to be confirmed by other teams of scientists following their methodology. If it turns out to be correct, as many suspect it will, it will be celebrated as one of the most momentous discoveries in astronomy.

Even so, finding evidence of what happened a split second after the Big Bang doesn’t mean that there are not other big questions to be answered. Humans have only begun to understand the nature of the universe. This discovery represents the first step in a long march to understanding far more.

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